Solstice Sacrifice

Image by Albrecht Fietz from Pixabay 

The woods were quiet, the first full day of winter. The occasional chickadee, mourning doves flying over. A grey day, no sun, and only the red of berries and dogwood stems to alleviate the greys and brown of wood and field.

And then another splash of red: blood, on the snow beside the path. I crouched to look. A squirrel, I think. Blood, and tufts of fur wavering in the light breeze, caught by crystals of ice. And a neat pile of guts. Nothing else. A fresh kill, not more than an hour or two old.

The path was tamped down by many feet, and the softer snow at the wood’s edge pocked with the tracks of dogs. In the grey light there were no shadows to give shape and depth to a set of prints leading away into the trees. No drops of blood or the marks left by dragged prey, either. Nor were there wing marks to suggest an owl or hawk, and the neat evisceration made that unlikely to my mind. There were, simply, not enough clues for my small store of woodcraft. Weasel, mink, fox, coyote—all these were candidates. I took a photo or two, and kept walking.

At home I turned to my computer for research. An hour later, I more-or-less had consensus, from the style of the kill, that the predator was a member of the Mustelidae – a weasel or mink. Both were possible: I’d seen a weasel only days before, and a mink shares the pond in Wild Goose Woods with the resident beaver. A pond that, as a mink moves, was perhaps 600 metres away.  

Today the woods and fields are in the grip of a blizzard, and mink and squirrels both are likely denned and quiet, conserving energy, the mink curled in its underground den, the squirrels in hollow trees. Fresh snow has covered the kill site. When I walk there again, after this storm has blown itself out in a day or two, there will be no sign of it.  

A predator taking prey is an everyday occurrence, repeated in one form or another multiple times across these 400 acres of semi-wild land where I walk and think and observe. Only the human need for pattern and meaning, for significance, made me see it, on the first day after the longest night, as a solstice sacrifice.

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