Archive for the ‘Tracking’ Category

It’s not every day that I see a spotted salamander. As a matter of fact, I spent a lot of time as a kid in the woods around here turning rocks over, poking sticks into holes, and generally looking everywhere I could for things that creeped and crawled. Plenty of red efts, plenty of newts, toads, and snakes. But never a spotted salamander like this one. And maybe for good reason. A quick google of Ambystoma maculatum tells me that the adults spend most of their time nearly underground, in moist, hidden places, eating earthworms and other such things. Only on warm, rainy nights do they venture above ground to go to a mating pond.

A careful study of the above picture though, might leave you wondering just what is going on here. Is that snow??!! Yep, that’s snow all right. This is a photo I took of a spotted salamander as he sauntered out on a fine day in late December, with plenty of snow on the ground. It was a sunny day, but not particularly warm, when I snowshoed up to a small, dark, moving mass in the snow. Stuck in a footprint, as a matter of fact.

There he was, on a groomed cross-country ski trail, stuck in a footprint. I was bemused, to say the least.

What in the world was a salamander doing out in December? I really have no idea. But I do know that due to my inquisitive nature and tireless tracking abilities, I could reconstruct part of the story. For on the uphill side of the ski trail, I picked up the track of the salamander.

How many people can say that they have followed the tracks of a salamander in the snow? Probably not too many. I found myself chuckling at the strangeness of it all while I carefully back tracked the footprints and tail drag of a spotted salamander in December snow. How far had he gone? How long had he been walking? Luckily, after only twenty yards or so, I had my answer. My quarry’s trail led back to a hemlock sapling that was just poking its head up through the snow. On the underside of the tiny trunk was a little tunnel where the tension of the bent twig had probably pushed against the snowpack just enough to create a little salamander highway. And that where the tracks came out of.

Intrigued by the strangeness of it all, I followed the tracks back down to the live specimen, still wriggling in the ski trail. He’d freed himself from the footprint and was now, very slowly, pushing himself forward one push of a leg at a time. The sun was soon to go down, he must have been getting colder and slower. I watched for a minute and he moved barely a foot.

These are the sort of times that can be a sort of test. I am a trained wildlife biologist, versed in the ways of data and statistics and study design. All of which train you to leave things be. To let things play out in a natural way without interference, for the good of impartial observing. And then there is also the school that believes that things happen for a reason, and that you should let nature take its course. That there is a sort of arrogance in thinking that we can change things for the better by sticking our nose into situations like this. I am partial to both of these schools, I will not lie.

But there is this, too. A kinship. I watched the salamander struggling, inch by inch, across the trail. It was now below freezing –  a dangerous time for an ectothermic being. The skies were clear, boding for a hard frost by morning. He was nowhere near shelter. Downhill, and in the direction he was traveling, were a string of beaver ponds that were probably his destination… a winter spent in a sheltering mudbath, I imagine. But I couldn’t imagine him making it that far before the frost crystals began rupturing living cells and putting a solitary end to his efforts.

I considered carrying him down to the pond. Too much? I am no reader of amphibian minds… maybe that wasn’t his destination at all. Besides, what about survival of the fittest and all that? Maybe this creature was not destined to breed again. Who was I to interfere? A leg reached out, the body serpentined and found meager purchase against the grains of snow. Well, I could at least get him off the trail. He stood some chance of being run over by a groomer during the night. My human interference might prevent human interference of another kind.

And so I picked him up and moved him off the trail, to the downhill side. And I hope he didn’t mind that I dug out the slightest of a hollow at the base of a tree for him, and finished by covering him with a handful of snow. Enough insulation, I thought, to help him survive the coming frost. I couldn’t help it.

Did he make it to the pond? Did he survive the night? I don’t know, but I hope so.

What I do know is that some day, years from now, I hope to be out in the winter with a friend, and come across a strange track in the snow. Not a beetle, not a mouse, but something different. I look forward to looking at it, smiling, and saying with confidence, “why, that’s a salamander track,” and then telling this story again.

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I’ve gotten quite a bit of interest on the site from people looking for pictures of wolverine tracks… so here is a collection of photos i took during the season. Some are better than others, and if anyone has questions or comments about wolverine tracks or tracking, i would love to see them.

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So, as the progenitor of this digital collection of words and images, I have the unique opportunity to see how people get here. One thing I notice is that as I write about wolverines, folk keep finding this site by seeking photographs of wolverine tracks. Well, give the people what they want, I say (it seems like someone else might have said that first).

But not quite yet.

Instead, tonight let’s take a real good look at one picture.

Here’s a photo I took while standing on the seat of a Forest Service snowmobile in the vicinity of Hart’s Pass, WA. You wouldn’ think the tracking conditions were good. A week or more of sun and warm temperatures preceded this day. The snow was a concrete slab, with only hoar frost to provide softness to the surface… and the balm of the midday sun. But at night it would freeze again. So there was a chance at tracks, but only at the right time of day. Well, we got lucky.

Wait, you say, that’s two pictures! Well, not really. The first is a little closer on the wolverine track and the second gives you more of the bigger picture and scale.

Speaking of scale, let me apologize to the tracking community. I know, I know, when I’m taking photos of animal tracks, I’m supposed to put a tape measure in the picture so that everyone can compare it to the various charts that trackers have laboriously come up with to classify animal tracks. Well, sorry to buck tradition, but I think that a tape measure ruins an otherwise artistic masterpiece of a track in snow. And furthermore (sit down for this one), I suggest you throw away your tape measure altogether! Feel the ripples of indignation spreading from the audacity of that statement…

But seriously, there is a place for precise measurements. Maybe in telling a fisher from a marten. But in most cases, to concentrate on measuring track, stride, and straddle is to meticulously look at a tree when the forest could tell you what you want to know.

With that in mind, lets look at our picture. Here’s what I mean about throwing away the tape measure… compare the track and stride size to the snowmobile track next to it, and the result is … it’s big. Not a mouse, not a squirrel, not even a marten. Big, I tell you. We’re on the edge of the North Cascades in Washington… in winter. So big makes our job easy. It’s winter, so bears are out. Lynx, wolverine, wolf. That’s about it.

And so we take a close look.

Lynx falls out real quick. Cat’s have retractable claws that don’t show in the snow. And the individual tracks are asymmetric. Asymmetric? you say?… well, the direction that the pad seems to be pointing and the direction the toes point isn’t quite the same. It’s like they’re pigeon-toed, if that helps you imagine. Plus, they only have four toes.

Look at the photo. Counting individual tracks from the bottom–track 1 is the top of a group cut off by the photo, and then we get 2,3,4,5 with 3 and 4 almost superimposed, and so on.  There’s a hint of something in track number 2… and definitely noticeable in 6 and again in 10. A fifth toe. Of our choices, the weasel family is the only family that shows 5 toes in a track. But even if, for some reason, that toe never registered–theres’ another hint. Thank Rezendes for this one… a typical weasel footprint is 5-toed, but pay attention here) the middle three toes tend to group together.. giving a 1-3-1 pattern to the toes. If you look carefully, you can see this in the photo, even where the 5th toe doesn’t register (a -3-1 if you will). Out goes lynx and wolf. But to be fair, let’s pretend we couldn’t see toes.

We can tell even without toes? Hell yes!

But let me be careful here. On a good track, where you can see a definite pad and toes, you only need look at ten tracks or so before you are pretty certain of the animal you are looking at. When looking at track patterns, it takes a little more work. Most trackers will follow a pattern for at least a hundred yards before making a guess, and even then will be open to other opinions. But some guesses are better than others. And that’s the point… to make an educated guess.

Take another look at the photo. No matter what it is, it is a four-legged creature. So how do the four legs fall? Track 1 is the top of a grouping, so ignore it for now. 2,3,4, and 5 are the four feet landing. How do they land? Well, kind of slanted. And 3 and 4 nearly land on top of each other. Well, folks, what we are looking at here is a classic weasel track pattern. The slant can be right or left, but 4 tracks end up looking like 3 (especially in deeper snow, where the second and third almost direct-register). From an earlier post, here is the two patterns I have seen from a wolverine:

and therefore the track (the right pattern) is called a 3x track pattern (though it is 4 feet). The track pattern in our photo is slanted the other way, but you can still see it.

And there’s more. Take a look at the scratch marks in the snow between tracks. Not only can we see the tracks and track pattern, but we can almost match individual tracks by the toe drag between them! (Please don’t discourage me by rolling your eyes, I’m having fun here). My hero, Rezendes, was kind enough to point out that you can tell hind tracks from front tracks in the weasel family–the hind tracks register toes and a pad, while the front tracks register toes, pad, and an elongated impression of the leg coming into the pad. Look at the picture… you can see this. Two tracks have an elongated pad while the other two are concise tracks. And then look at the toe drag… you see where the rear feet land and where the front feet land. So… the track pattern, as i see it,  is front-(rear-front)-rear. Though the toe drag in the middle tracks is a little muddled, you can see that the lone rear track and the lone front track connect… so the lead foot remains the same throughout the travel! You may think me a dork for being impressed by this insight, but suddenly I can imagine the animal moving… the strange, hunch-backed lope of a weasel… and it all makes sense. And suddenly we connect, the wolverine and I. As if I saw it loping along with my own eyes.

And so maybe you begin to see my celebration of one paltry photograph. But I’m not quite done yet.

What is that above and left of our wolverine track? In the snow there is an old, melted-out track pattern. The quick look is one that would have the sane person saying “not a good enough track, you can’t tell what that is.” And they would be right. Except if we were asked to make an educated guess.

Back to basics. No toes showing. Measurements near to useless. It’s melted out and old. But then again…

It’s a big track, even if melting has exaggerated it. And the lower half of the picture shows a slanted 2x pattern… classic weasel. And the upper part of the picture goes into a slanted 3x pattern… again a weasel pattern. Not definitive, i suppose, but all fingers are pointing away from lynx and wolf and toward marten or wolverine. And… I’ll put my own experience on the line a little here… the wolverine tracks I’ve seen freely switch from 2x to 3x without warning, whereas marten tracks tend to stick to 2x patterns unless they slow down to look at something. This one switches back and forth while traveling a road grade. And it is probably a big track. I f a PhD were to ask me if this (the old track) was a wolverine track, I’d say “probably.” (it doesn’t really matter, they wouldn’t believe me anyway). But if someone were to ask me where to put a camera station or wolverine trap, I would, with confidence, put my finger down on the map… even with just seeing the old track. And you could, too.

Drop the measuring tape. Take a look at the big picture.

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Putative seems to be the new word in the carnivore world. On going over protocols for tracking wolverines this season, every track is considered a “putative” wolverine track. Which is why there is now a heavy emphasis on collecting hair and scat. DNA gleaned from these samples will allow a putative species track to become a confirmed species track. Apparently they don’t think that their field folk can tell a wolverine track from a lynx track. In some cases they are probably right, but I can’t help but feel a little insulted. I’m pretty sure I could tell a good wolverine track from a good lynx track at 25 mph on a snowmobile. In their defense, the world of the PhD is one of lawsuits and defensible science, so perhaps they can be forgiven. But I was supposed to be talking about a bobcat before that putative word got in the way…

Today I discovered an excellent bobcat (putative) track. It was fresh and unchanged by the sun above me. The toes stood out sharp in the snow, slanted like a cat–asymmetric some might say. The feet sank into the snow just enough to leave a track… maybe a quarter inch or so. Great conditions, and a track that looked like the bobcat was just around the corner.

Part of getting good at tracking is to take advantage of opportunities where you have a good track. Putative PhD’s aside, I knew after looking at the first print that this was a bobcat. But still, it pays to look at the bigger picture. It lets you imprint the intricacies of track pattern, stride, straddle, etc. into your mind so that another time, when the tracking condition aren’t good, you can pull it back out and make an educated guess. Kind of like orienteering… you don’t wait until you’re lost to look at the map–you still look it even though you know where you are.

So I looked at the whole track–there was probably 40 yards or so of bobcat trail in a nice, open area. The first thing that registered was that this was not what I am used to seeing in a cat pattern. Cats spend the majority of their time in a very concise and predictable alternating pattern. But this was different… sort of like an alternating track with two prints on each side. Sigh, maybe a diagram would help:

a normal, catlike alternating pattern (left) versus this putative bobcat track (right)

And then, where the cat (putative! I hear them yell…) made a couple of turns it all went to hell… at times it looked even like a weaselish slanted set of four prints (though a weasel would superimpose the middle two on each other to show more of a 3x slant rather than a 4x slant). I heard or read (I paraphrase) that every animal will at some point leave a track that looks exactly like a different animal — it was probably Rezendes again. So I looked at a few more prints… 4 toes, asymmetric, no claws… a bobcat, no doubt. Screw the scientific scrutiny. Just a different track pattern than I’m used to, and therefore a learning opportunity. More pictures:

Kind of interesting if you’re a track nerd like me, but nothing new. Rezendes notes it in his book as a “fast walk” and even shows a slanted 4x pattern as a “lope” for a bobcat (did he have DNA confirmation, one wonders…). But it’s fun to see and discover for yourself.

And in looking at the overall pattern, I suddenly noticed all the drag marks. This cat was dragging toes on every step! Now, Rezendes also notes that bobcats commonly drag their toes in the snow, but when I read this, I assume he is talking about measurable snow amounts. In this case, the animal was barely sinking into the snow at all. Like I said, maybe a quarter inch–and still dragging its toes. As if lifting its feet was such a chore.

It is these little moments that make being outside fun. A little connection with the animal, something different. Not your average bobcat, but the laziest one in the state. It put a little smile on my face and led me to the obvious conclusion — putative bobcats are lazy.

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Arriving at work on a morning this week, I was asked “how do you feel about following some wolverine tracks today?” The good news was that we had definite evidence of a wolverine visiting one of our trap sites, the bad news was that the trap was closed when the wolverine swung by. Martens are a challenge for us–in this case one was already in the trap, probably munching on some bait, when the wolverine passed by. At about the same time another wolverine had visited a trap at Harts Pass and found it closed, too. That one was closed because of some technical difficulties with the radio telemetry that tells us whether the trap is open or closed.

Despite our disappointment (getting a GPS collar on a few wolverines is the goal for the winter, after all), there was something we could accomplish. Believe it or not, we had a chance to know exactly who this wolverine was.

Technology has had a profound effect on the study of wildlife. GPS and GIS allows wildlife biologist to see the location of collared animals from the comfort of an office chair. Pit tags allow us to know the identity of animals (salmon, bats, and even beavers) as they pass by readers along rivers or at cave entrances. GIS allows biologists to see a wide variety of maps that catalog forest type, soil type, elevation, and about as many others variables as you can imagine. Batteries and GPS units continue to get smaller, allowing the use of GPS tracking on smaller and smaller animals. And then there is DNA analysis.

Believe it or not, the goal of our tracking the wolverine on this day in January was the hope that we would find… scat. It used to be that the only reason biologists were poking and prodding at these basic bodily functions was to discern the peculiarities of diet from what passed through the intestine. But now there’s something else. DNA.

It seems that when an animal (and that includes us) takes a shit in the woods, there is a trace of intestinal cells that slough off in the process and find themselves lingering on the surface of scat. These cells, when the scat is properly collected and delivered to a lab, can be teased off and analyzed, giving the DNA footprint of the animal. Species, sex, and even individual can be identified from these samples. It’s pretty amazing.

Ten years ago, I was in this area tracking Canadian lynx during the winter. I was paid to carry a heavy, accurate GPS unit to record the trail of the lynx and any associated behaviors. One of the things we did was to collect scat and hair as we found them. This was in the early days of this lab technique, and the lab biologists were surprised and encouraged by what they could tease out of our samples. Now there is a movement (no pun intended) to use hair and scat collection as a means of monitoring otherwise elusive wildlife populations. Like the wolverine.

Although I had once seen a snowed-in wolverine track during my lynx-tracking days, this was my first opportunity to spend time with a good track. It was a lot of fun. For those of you who are trackers, aspiring trackers, or just interested, here are some of my photos and observations:

The track itself seemed pretty distinctive, if you’ve looked at a few tracks in the snow. The feet are large compared to the size of the animal, so you get large tracks with a relatively small stride and straddle. You might confuse them with a wolf, but the stride is much shorter, and the same for a cougar.  And the track pattern is different.

If you can see toes, it is easy. The weasel family has five toes that show in a track, and the middle three toes are closer together than the outer two, giving what is called a 1-3-1 pattern to the toes. A picture might help:

wolverine track

Note also the the claws clearly show in the track, which means it is not a cat.  The marten is in the weasel family, and could be confused with a wolverine, I suppose, but the marten track is much smaller, whereas the wolverine track was about the size of the palm of my hand (according to Halfpenny, the wolverine averages a 4″x4″ track, while a marten is 1.75″x1.75″). The toes also seemed much more distinct than in a marten track, as if the marten has furrier feet. Another picture with my snowshoe and foot for scale:

Note also how the heel of the wolverine seems to lay down into the track, making it look elongated. We were lucky with snow conditions–there was a little bit of new snow on top of a hard, older layer. These pictures, taken where there was less snow under the trees, really gave a good look at the pattern of the foot, as opposed to in the open areas, where the snow obscured more of the detail. A good lesson in tracking is to always follow an unknown track for a ways before deciding what it is–it may look very different at the roadside than it does further along, and it is better to develop a mental image of the usual track pattern, size, and shape and to morph these into an “average” track and pattern in your head.

And before we move off into the snow, here’s a couple of photos of John, my supervisor, creating some “wildlife paperweights” as he calls them. The red stuff is a spray-on wax that keeps the plaster of paris from melting the snow (and therefore the track)… the wax is commercially available, and the plaster is very available, and you end up with a cast of the track. His were slightly soft after a couple of hours, but ready to be moved.

The wax also seemed to make the tracks show a little better in these pictures…

Moving out from under the tree cover and into some deeper snow, I was surprised that the tracks didn’t show more drag from the wolverine’s body. Although the tracks were a little messy (kicked snow, dragged toes, etc) they were cleaner than i thought they would be. This can be different in different snow conditions, though.

Since these tracks I have seen some in powdery snow at Harts Pass, and there was a bit of a body trench involved in those tracks.

Represented here are the two track patterns I noted while following this wolverine. They are standard track patterns for the weasel family, and I believe are referred to as the 2x and 3x patterns. I was surprised, in following this critter, how often and easily the wolverine switched back and forth between these two patterns. There didn’t seem to be much difference in the speed of the animal, although in my mind the 2x track seems more suited to a faster travel. The real key to knowing this is to see the length of the space between track sets (the stride) increasing. But the stride on the tracks I saw seemed comparable in the 2x and 3x patterns. Also of note is that the animal seemed comfortable changing the lead foot, so sometimes the tracks were slanted right (as in my representation to the left) and sometimes slanted left. It’s fun to know, too, that the 2x pattern is actually 4 feet landing in each set of tracks… the lead feet have already left the track when the hind feet land in the same spot.

Some more photographs:

A 2x track pattern in the snow.

A 3x track changing to a 2x track.

“Being a weasel” … he/she was checking every tree bole on the way up the hill. Looking for squirrels? hares?

The wolverine crosses the river. Notice the track pattern and how the lead foot has changed from the foreground to the most distant tracks, and that there are a couple of 2x strides before going back to 3x…

In the end, we got what we were looking for. One team backtracked and the other forward tracked, and although neither group collected any hair (DNA can also be gleaned from the follicles when hair get pulled out of the animal), each team did recover a turd. A couple of wolverines have been trapped in this vicinity in recent years, and DNA is taken when they are trapped, so when the results come back from the lab we’ll know if the animal we were tracking was one that had been caught before, and if so, exactly which one. Pretty neat.

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Took some photos a few weeks back while snowshoeing, and thought maybe i should share them for anyone interested in snow tracking and telling the members of the weasel family apart. I will soon be doing some winter work with wolverines, so hopefully i’ll be able to add some wolverine track photos later on.

The photos are particularly useful (i think) because i found a spot where weasel and marten crossed paths, so a comparison was particularly easy.

But first the weasel solo — the leatherman measures 4″ long, to give you a sense of scale:

Halfpenny calls this type of track “2x bounding”… each set of tracks here is actually four footprints–the front feet land, but then are already in the air when the rear feet touch down in the tracks left by the front feet. If you want to hear about measurements, check out Halfpenny or Rezendes (both excellent books with a slightly different approach). For me, though, notice the width of the track in comparison to the length of the bound–you can see that it is a long bounding pattern. If you are to follow a weasel track, you’ll also note an erratic trail–these guys tend to zig and zag and are unafraid of going under the snow for a bit.

And now the marten:

You can tell that the track size is much, much bigger compared to the length of the bound. These trails tend to be more steady, too, and it is common to see the tracks lead to a tree trunk and disappear as the marten goes up a tree searching for squirrels.

And a few pictures of both together:

Hopefully these are helpful.

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With five inches or so of snow on the ground and the sun beginning to peer through the clouds, I couldn’t help but get outside today. So for the first time of the season, I strapped on snowshoes and went off to explore a forest road. There is something magical about the first real snow of the season. The trees are all decorated in white, the landscape is softened, and there is something about snow that muffles out sound and leave a precious stillness. It feels like you have just learned how to see again, and everything is beautiful.

I’ve got an old pair of Tubbs aluminum snowshoes, and although I’m considering looking into some xc skis, I’m happy with the pace and freedom of a pair of snowshoes.  On them, I move slow enough to notice things, and although a trail or an empty road is nice, any direction or terrain is possible.

And it can be a workout. You don’t “float” on the snow when breaking trail. What the shoes do is to even out your footsteps–they prevent you from post-holing on one step and then not punching through on the next. But you do sink in, and you have to lift the shoe out with each step. It can build character, especially on steep slopes and places littered with fallen trees.

But the ability to wander at will is a joy, especially if you are like me. I like tracks. I like following animals and seeing (from their tracks) what they were up to. Today I was lucky enough to spend some time with a cougar.

We’ll call it a she. Her tracks crossed the forest road partway into my day, and i immediately followed. The tracks were fresh, although not so fresh that i thought i would catch up to her. There was a tiny bit of snow or frost in the track, and since cougars meander around at night mostly, i figure she’d moved through last night.

What struck me first was that she wasn’t that big. In general, if you look at a walking animal, the distance from one right foot to the other right foot (or left to left) is the length of the animal from rump to shoulder. This cat’s stride wasn’t much longer than my showshoe… maybe three feet. A head and a tail would make it a bit longer, but overall the size of maybe a medium-large dog. The tracks themselves were too big for a bobcat, and the fact that the feet were sinking in deep ruled out a lynx.

The fun of tracking is that i feel like i get to know the animal a little bit. Right where i first met the track, the cat sat down for a little bit. Part of the back legs showed in the snow, and the front feet were just in front. A little bit of ice in the whole composition showed that it was there long enough for its body heat to melt the snow a bit. Just resting? Waiting? When i used to track lynx, it seemed like they always sat in a spot with a view… and this cat was doing the same thing. A bare hillside up ahead, the open forest road stretching straight out to it. I think the cougar paused here, waiting to see if there was anything moving out there. And then she kept moving.

She took me into a section of criss-crossed fallen timber… fallen by a fire crew. Signs of a nearby fire and scorching on the trunks suggested that the road i was walking had been a designated fire break, and they’d fallen some trees to make sure a crown fire couldn’t cross the road.

Quickly i came to the conclusion that she was definitely hunting. She approached a little hollow, and three times i noticed what i like to call “ghost steps”–where a foot touches the snow, but no weight is put on it, leaving just a slight print. I picture her pausing in mid-stride, thinking she saw or heard something. Each time i see a ghost step i look up, too. At the third one, i notice two mule deer in the hollow. Maybe there’d been one there last night.

And then she was into a log maze. Circling back on her own tracks, going around and over logs. Definitely hoping to surprise something in there. And with a smile, i started noticing that this cat (maybe all cougars?) likes to jump. Putting a paw on a log and easing over it just wouldn’t do. Most logs she crossed had a perfectly intact head of snow on them, with her tracks on either side… she didn’t even brush the snow with a body or foot. A perfect leap over each time. I, of course, lumbered over them, half-falling as little stob branches tried to grab my showshoes.

I don’t know if she was hoping to find a deer in that log maze, or maybe something smaller like a squirrel or hare, but after leaving the logs behind, i suddenly had a hard time following her tracks because of all the fresh deer tracks that crossed, re-crossed, and obliterated the cougar tracks. The prey and predator using the same trails…

And so, after a bit, i turned for home. My legs were already protesting. I’m not in shape for snowshoeing yet. It uses muscles i don’t even know i have.

And the walk out was a treat. The slightest of breezes, and a small dose of sun conspired to begin loosening the snow from the ponderosas and firs. First one, and then another. It starts with just a few quiet thumps of snow hitting snow, but then a cascade of snow comes down as a flickering white mist that mushrooms out at the ground and lingers, sparkling, in the air.

This is the grace of being outdoors. There seem to always be unlooked for moments of wonder that greet you when you least expect. I stood and watched as a whole forest of trees began sending down their glinting cascades, one after another. And i smiled.

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