Winter Encounter

I woke today with a strong need to be out-of-doors, after yesterday’s freezing rain and snow kept me in. I wanted fields and trees, not concrete and houses. By 8:30 I was at the Arboretum.

The temperature hovered just around freezing: just above, because trees dripped water and the snow was slush in most places. I took the path through Wild Goose Woods, stopping often to listen: silence. Far in the distance crows called, and a V of Canada geese honked their way to feed in stubble fields somewhere to the south, but the woods themselves were quiet. No chickadees or nuthatches, not even a woodpecker.

The path was free of human footprints, but a fox had used it, not too much earlier from the crispness of the prints in the snow. Squirrel tracks crossed it here and there. I took the wide path to the beaver pond. So had the beaver, sometime in the night, from its trail, but there was no sign of it – or the mink that likes this place too– at the pond. I waited for a while, hoping for ripples in the patch of open water, but it stayed smooth. I moved on before my feet grew cold.

Out into the old field, and along the ecotone between woods and field. Still no human footprints, but a coyote – or two – had passed this way: I can’t tell coyote prints from dog, but coyote scat is usually distinctive, and this one had eaten a fair bit of fruit. Chickadees called, fast and urgent, from ahead of me: I wondered if they had found a small owl, but their behaviour didn’t back that up. They weren’t focused on one place, but moving between bushes, feeding, along with a junco and a downy woodpecker.

Far to the east a raven called, the deep gronk unmistakable. I came out through the rhododendron wood onto the wide roads, and people. But not many, and I left them behind as I returned to the paths.

Curving back towards where my car was parked, on a trail through old field and scattered shrubs, I was still birding by ear and looking at tracks in the snow. Because I was looking down, I saw the tiny white head poking out from cover at the edge of the path, the dark eyes in a pointed face, and the quick, fluid turn of the pure white body—and the black tip to its tail. A short-tailed weasel in winter moult.

Kalabaha1969, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

I walked a few steps, crouched down to see its tiny prints in the snow. I’m sure the man who passed me then had no idea what I was smiling about, the gift just given, the grace granted. A moment and a memory.  

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