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Too close for comfort?

The stream is shrunk – the pool is dry,
And we be comrades, thou and I;
With fevered jowl and dusty flank
Each jostling each along the bank;
And by one drouthy fear made still,
Forgoing thought of quest or kill.

Now ‘neath his dam the fawn may see,
The lean Pack-wolf as cowed as he,
And the tall buck, unflinching, note
The fangs that tore his father’s throat.

The pools are shrunk – the streams are dry,
And we be playmates, thou and I,
Till yonder cloud – Good Hunting! – loose
The rain that breaks our Water Truce.

    – Rudyard Kipling, How Fear Came To The Jungle

 

The last snows of winter are gone—but spring has its own challenges. Including more snow. Still-frozen ground preventing excavation for worms and grubs, new growth still sparse, fruits and berries and frozen bugs long since harvested: a tough time to be a mid-size mammal, however omnivorous, and especially if eating for two (or three or nine).

A scattered handful of bird-seed is enough to attract company like these cute

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and companionable opossums

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or raccoons:

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– Though at least one knows how to play rough, whether in pursuit of food, competition for a mate, or defense of self/family/territory, as neck and throat wounds raw

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and fresh

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show. Attempts to build rapport between genera

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are not always successful:

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The addition of a new player with long-range weapons changes the dynamic, with temporary alliances forming and dissolving

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until everyone spreads to a more comfortable distance:

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With no Hathi to broker and enforce a snow-truce, all will walk on thin ice until spring’s bounty at last emerges anew.

 

 

 

Chiaroscuro

The last snow of winter (to be followed in short order by the first of spring) falls on warm ground, compressing the usual pastel rainbow to just a couple of hues:

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oak leaf and asphalt

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oak leaf and brick

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oak leaf and asphalt

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deer leavings

 

Spring is here

Spring flowers, autumn moon;
   summer breezes, winter snow:
With mind uncluttered,
   this is the finest season.

      –Wumen Huikai

 

Spring is, in some respects, the most interesting season. No longer sluggish and gelid like molasses in January, rootlets slurp un-solid moisture, melt hoarded sugars, send sap skyward to awakened buds. Scrawny mammals creep forth, fat burned off in slow subterranean fires. Birds turn attention from survival of self to propagation of species. The skies teem with weather, feather and call. And all so wonderfully day-by-day dynamic for we the watchers and sometime stewards.

Squirrel that just days ago prayed to earth spirits for relief

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or warmed its toes on an accommodating cousin

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now enjoys renewed access to cached provender

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and a moment of satiated bliss:

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Receding snows reveal well-preserved treasure where burrowing voles fare not

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as a robin finds soft scratching and plenty of dazed worms.

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Above, wood ducks seek and chase in high branches,

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while below, new-paired bluebirds shop for family quarters

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inspecting both nursery and neighborhood:

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While rimed azaleas test the uncertain weather before fully committing to flower,

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this early magnolia bets all on a chance to seduce the first-flying beetles for pollination

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and offers a cardinal now concerned less with dining,

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and more with mating, a prominent podium:

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Any port after a storm

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Who went there?

“I say, Holmes, whatever do you suppose left such odd impressions in the snow over there?

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“Odd, my dear Watson? I should say, rather, exactly what would be expected from a female circus dog with one lame trotter, walking erect, bearing on her shoulders a juvenile bonobo in a mauve linsey-woolsey cape, carrying in its right hand a rutabaga—by the leafy top, mind—and in its left a toy umbrella whose ivory point drags on the ground. -Each, of course, wearing a sailor cap and chewing, respectively, a salted sow’s-ear and a stalk of sugar cane.”

“Astonishing, Holmes! Though perhaps I should expect no less. But tell, pray, which subtle clues in yon whiteness revealed so much to your keen gaze?”

“In the snow? None. I merely chanced to observe the motley party pass this spot ere we rounded the corner, reflected in the glass of your pocket watch, which you have left dangling by the gold chain given you by that grateful heiress.”


Though most tracks hereabouts tend a trifle more to the pedestrian, so to speak, some remain fairly mysterious unless one has seen who- or whatever left them, and under what circumstances. For example, these segmented lines, proud of the ice by up to an inch, might (from stride length and weight of impression in what had been light powder snow, later blowing away everywhere not compacted by skis) be assigned to an adult male human, perhaps with W for one or more of his initials.

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Other imprints may have a distinctly artificial aspect, like this “negative snowflake”

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that could have been some kind of practical joke or artistic whim, but in fact was indifferently created by such a pair as these

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crossing in opposition.

 

Sometimes there is a more dynamic story to be read. Any light-aircraft enthusiast will recognize this

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as an overloaded takeoff into extreme wind shear. Note  ground contact by primary leading edges at both wingtips; lack of debris suggests that no damage was done to the airframe.

 

Back to that first track, here from a slightly more vertical angle:

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It is easier to decipher the inscription when time is unrolled: time since the tracks were laid down, and time over which they were made. It also helps to remember recent weather. In this case, unseasonably warm, with soft snow slush when something walked by once. Then a colder, finer over-fall, shortly before the end of which it passed again. Then almost-melting temperatures to sinter the loose flakes against wind movement without losing detail, then a harder freeze to preserve it all until morning. But what was it? And what made those scratches? As with the doubly fictional Sherlock Holmes vignette above, and with a nod to the great naturalist Lawrence Peter Berra, sometimes you can observe a lot just by watching. In this case, right out the living room window under which these tracks were made, on a path trodden daily by one (or more) of these

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that knows where to look for spilled bird-seed and can’t clearly see or just isn’t much bothered about people and cameras.

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For a wonderful in-the-field experience with a skilled local tracker, devoted naturalist and passionate teacher, contact

trackertrainer@fpond.org

All ages welcome!

Effusions dark and light

Winter’s low sun finds narrow paths past hill and tree,

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expanding to reveal (and then disrupt) a thermocline painted with early-rising wood smoke:

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Avalanche of dougnuts

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Mmm, snonuts!

Caged, uncaged

Hawk (Cooper’s? Sharp-shinned?)  chases a red squirrel under an old potting shed, then inside through a gap in the floor. Forgetting how it got there, or just seeking the closest light, it flutters in panic until the noise attracts someone who can open the door.

I see the sky, but I can't touch it

I see the sky, but I can’t touch it

 

So much nicer out here, with easy access to sky and corn-fed squirrels.

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Vantage

 

 

Cold culling

Eat hearty and dress warm…

This mole and flying squirrel were apparently unable to keep up with the chill; the camera found them before some other hungry bird or beast happened along.

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Memento mori.