Lime Hollow Nature Center
Covered Bridge at the Lime Hollow Visitor Center

From My Sit Spot

by Pete Angie

Deer Tracks in the SnowThe brown detritus of the forest floor was as flat as a piece of cloth, pressed smooth by a cold iron of weeks of steady snow pack that had now vanished into saturated soil, tumultuous creeks and the unseasonably warm, damp air of a January thaw. My almost three year old son Odin and I stretched out our arms and flew along the trail, imitating birds--he was the mama bird, I the baby--until we came to a patch of remaining snow. Look at those deer tracks, I remarked as we paused, and wondered about them, as I frequently do. Such simple curiosity has often led to memorable experiences following in the foot prints of animals.

Last winter about this time, when the air was cold and the snow cover thick, I had set out to the woods of Bear Swamp State Forest alone. Crossing the frozen body of the swamp, I saw where the wind had cleared away the fine snow, revealing coyote prints in a layer of crust. On the other side, I got comfortable seated on a foam pad with my back against a giant hemlock. From my nest I watched the wind move clouds, tree tops and snow flakes and observed the twisted trunks of muscle wood with greater than normal appreciation. Half an hour flew by and it was time to go. Following my path back out to the swamp, I noticed a set of tracks that had not been there when I passed before. Coming out of a 4 inch diameter tunnel and making a straight, bounding advance over the mostly open snow, they looked like the work of a mink. Following them, I saw where the animal had passed another tunnel entrance by a few feet, then stopped and went back, diving into the water at the bottom of the hole. Looking up, I saw my sit spot less than fifty feet away. While I had been sitting there my right shoulder would have pointed directly to the hole. The animal had spotted me. Had it come this way to check me out, or was it surprised to see me? Had I seen it out of the corner of my eye and not registered it? If so, what else had I seen but not seen that day? The thought of that discovery still brings back the thrill I felt there, deciphering the story in the snow.

On another winter outing I was awoken in my tent by my friend’s dogs barking in the middle of the night. At daybreak, searching for a sign of what might have set them off, I found fox prints and followed. The animal had traced a meandering path toward our camp, the round prints relatively close together, one in front of the other. Suddenly pouncing over a few feet of unbroken snow, it captured a tunneling mouse in its jaws, then dropped it and ran away from its prey and our camp at full tilt into the night. At least I think that was what happened. The hole from where the small canine’s head and paws had gone deep into the snow after the mouse was there, and—to my surprise—so was the slightly chewed on mouse. The departing tracks were six feet apart, indicating impressive speed. Had the dogs started barking when the fox jumped, or did the mouse squeal? Had their vigorous yelps sent the fox high tailing for cover, leaving her fresh meal behind? It seemed to be so, though I could not be totally sure. Tracks in the snow read like a mystery, giving us clues, though we are seldom able to complete the tale.

Odin and I pondered these deer tracks for only a minute. They seemed to disappear upon reaching the bare ground. We walked on, continuing to play birds as I said a quiet prayer for more snow.