The tracks we see most often are the dog-like footprints of coyotes, the big cushioned feet of hares, the narrow tread of martens and slimmer still of weasels (to which they are related). The latter is distinguished by an accompanying tail swipe between the legs. By the length of the stride, we can tell if the animals are strolling or running. Rarely do I see the tracks of voles (small meadow mice) because they burrow under the snow all winter, leaving telltale swales in the spring mud. However, this month, our snow is so shallow (maybe 2-3 inches) that I see their little foot impressions, complete with perfectly defined tiny toes. Their tracks run back and forth across short, exposed distances between tree stumps and the fluffy, insulating tents of dead fern fronds. I also see the tracks of their predators overlaying their own, presumably some hours later. Fast and quiet martens and weasels like the caverns beneath tree trunks, too.
Sometimes we catch a peripheral glimpse of a speedy and lithe white weasel or a black marten. These wily predators can sniff or hear the creatures beneath the snow. I have watched a marten run across a field, stop, approach slowly, and then leap into the air to dive into some sub-nivean nest for dinner. With one in his sharp teeth, he trots off for a quiet meal. I also see ravens fly, dive, and then fly off with something dark in their beak. The bottom of the food chain is a vulnerable place to be.
|Moose last winter|
Only once have I seen a blood trail. If I interpreted the ground signs correctly, an eagle swooped down to grab a hare just before it dived under a tree. The talons drew blood of some volume that pooled at the base of the tree, and then spotted the snow in a linear pattern as the bird lifted off. We found no body in the vicinity. All of this “dog eat dog” world transpires during the summer, too, of course, but it is hidden in the verdant, fast growing landscape. It is winter when I ruminate over clear reminders of the vulnerability of life – for us and other creatures - water, food, warmth, and safety.
Recipe: Saskatoon Pancakes
1/2 cup each of corn meal, oatmeal, white or wheat flour.
1 cup sour dough starter or buttermilk or milk "soured" with a tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice.
Add water to adjust texture for thick or thin pancakes.
1 cup of saskatoon berries (fresh in summer or frozen in winter) or blueberries
4 teaspoons baking powder
3 Tablespoons melted bacon grease, butter or oil
3 Tablespoons sugar or honey
Combine. Cook on a medium high, greased griddle. Extra oil or bacon grease will yield lacy, crispy edges. We serve this with homemade rhubarb syrup or honey, but any syrup or molasses is tasty.