In planning for today’s field trip, we had to make a decision about snowshoes three days ahead of time. During January, daytime temperatures had been at or above freezing for weeks (this being about 6°C above normal), but then the weather had turned cold and added five inches of fresh snow. Would the shrunken snowpack underneath have frozen hard enough support our weight? Rob went out and walked around enough to judge the situation. He found that he could walk around easily most of the time, but sometimes sank in to his knees unexpectedly. His recommendation: snowshoes for big kids and adults, but the smallest children would be free to run around unencumbered. We dug into our supply of donated snowshoes and outfitted any big person who didn’t have their own.
It turned out to be a good choice, enabling us to get well off trail for lunch. We made our cooking fires in a new spot where we could eat out of the wind and in occasional sunshine. And when we started up again, we were free to go in any direction we pleased. We slid to the bottom of a steep hill (even on snowshoes), probed both coniferous and deciduous forests, and crossed a half-drained beaver meadow. We even got into an environment destined to disappear from the earth: a Black Ash swamp.
All along the way we were crossing the tracks of the animals that occupy these woods. Those of Deer were deeply sunken into the snow, while Coyotes had trotted around on top, like our lightest kids. Two Fishers had run all through the woods; we saw their tracks often, sometimes together. A Snowshoe Hare had almost floated on top of even the powdery snow, while a Red Fox had drifted about almost as lightly. We could see where Red Squirrels had dashed from tree to tree, and a Porcupine had waddled back and forth between its den and a favourite feeding tree (a big Hemlock, reduced, after successive years of attack, to a skeletal state). We saw Wild Turkey and Ruffed Grouse tracks, too, but never a single living creature.