by R.T. Fitch
Being a southern boy, Florida and now SE Texas the last 25 years, snow has always been somewhat of an anomaly to me. Of course, going back to my childhood roots, from Michigan, there are fleeting memories of the white, fluffy, frozen rain but the biggest one is the fact that SNOW drove me to move away from the north at the ripe old age of 18 and, pretty much, never go back. Damn, I loved the summers, all 90 minutes’ worth of them.
But over the last two years, as a wandering consultant, I have found myself in Minnesota, Maine and now in Nebraska and Iowa where the white stuff has been off and on the ground for the past several months. The last big snow fell during Thanksgiving and lasted right up until Christmas requiring me to utilize the Big Red Dualy’s 4-wheel drive simply to get up my rental home’s driveway every evening. (Hey, the pavement can be clear of snow but as it melts, uphill, it runs down the drive’s slope and freezes before I get home, I hate it.)
With all of that said, snow has presented me with a 4th dimension that, as a warm-lander, I had no idea existed; that is the realization that snow on the ground is the canvas of God’s greatest creations on which they paint their daily lives’ where it is cached and saved as long as the frozen crystals maintain their viability. Snow is the non-digital browser history of wildlife.
While up here in the mid-west I am renting a small home nestled up atop a large and noted bluff only 100 meters from its peak. My backyard is the ascending, wooded bluff which is home to many a critter which is why I chose this location as it reminds me of home where the deer graze with the horses and the hoot of the owl lulls one to sleep.
Here, during the summer, a full bird-feeder attracted many a winged critter along with the largest bull racoon I have ever seen. Once the racoon had his way with the bird feeder he took to dragging my garbage cans up the bluff where he would hide them for his later amusement. (I have solved this by keeping what is left of them in the garage, but I did take offense to him stealing my pumpkin, the very first night I had it, and eating it on my back porch.)
Likewise, a strategically placed water trough just up the hill, beyond the backyard, yielded almost daily visits from local deer who appeared to appreciate the free beverage bar.
But with snow on the ground, I was amazed at not only the frequency but the volume of nocturnal visitors I would have moving about only inches from where I laid down my head, it was stunning.
Just wandering through, perhaps scoping out the patio area for any forgotten treats, would be rabbits, squirrels, mice, birds and a few tracks from maybe a marauding racoon. Every now and then the tracks of a wayward deer would saunter through but the really party blew up when I started putting out the simple mix of sunflower seeds and corn.
I started with pouring out a small pile on the snow covered, concrete patio, just outside my bedroom window, after I would return home in the evening from work. By the time I would clean up, make something to eat, have a drink or two while perusing Netflix the pile would be gone with only footprints left as evidence, I would miss the whole show.
I examined the footprints and deer had found their way down to the smorgasbord and it appeared that there were a bunch of them. So, to better understand their habits I began sitting in one of the spare bedrooms, which has a large sliding glass door, and quietly sip my Wrangler Iced Tea while waiting for the critters to make their appearance.
It didn’t take long, in fact, by the time I showered and mixed an adult beverage the little bunnies were already hard at work trying to make the sunflower seeds disappear but sadly they only had a few moments before the squirrels chased them away. But the squirrels, in their own right, are a blessing to view as Council Bluffs, IA, where our northern home resides, is noted for having an abundance of black squirrels, something we do not see down in SE Texas.
The squirrels have their way until the deer arrive and as a southern transplant, I have forgotten that deer from up north are way, way, way bigger from the little squirts that call Texas their home. And it was only two does that quickly gobbled up the goods and then slowly wandered off looking for further treats, elsewhere.
Enough for me, it was off to bed, but the snow kept recording the events of the night as in the morning raccoon tracks were visible which were partially covered up by canine tracks. Loose dog or coyote, I do not know but it was evident that he was on the trail of the coon and the final outcome played out on a stage other than in my backyard.
But as the weeks have gone by I have logged many a mystery visitor that has signed my snowy guest book with a footprint left behind to verify the visit and to please me with their presence until last night, as I read that guest book, I could not help but notice another set of footprints, prints that did not appear to belong and were squarely out of place. They were large with distorted marking in which dirt was left behind and placed in a manner that was symmetrically inconsistent with the others. Their appearance next to the small and delicate prints, from the wood’s creatures, left a cold feeling in my heart and dragged my mood even further down when I realized that those out of place footprints were made by someone or thing that I knew all too well and that something was…me. They were mine.
What a revelation; for all the joy that the natural, real-world browser history brought to me the sight of my own, oversized and dirty boot marks saddened me as they did not fit in with the fine, clean and delicate markings made by the animals, it was almost profane.
I laid awake the bulk of the night, last night, pondering the meaning of such an epiphany and it appears that not only am I overthinking the obvious, but the basic truth has been abundantly clear for the many centuries that humankind has infested this earth. Overall; our footprint does not fit in, full stop.
Blindly we stumble about, missing what the true message is, stepping on things smaller than we, leaving behind disruption and often chaos and rarely do we take the time to contemplate how we can better mesh and blend-in with the natural order of life. Like giant ogres in a fantasy movie we plunder, take, squash and pillage. It really must stop, and it should stop now.
For the sake of my winter, patio canvas I will take only one way in and one way out when I leave the critters their party mix and I will strive not to spoil the natural beauty that has been provided to me by the hand of Mother Nature. And to life, I will continue to respect all that lives, struggles and attempts to survive as fellow passengers on this spaceship called Earth while attempting to educate and enlighten those who have yet to take their blinders off and enjoy the simplicity of living in-tune with nature and the cycle of life.
I don’t know; I have just been rambling after a fitful night of soul searching but if I were a smarter man, I might come to the conclusion that I just struck a New Year’s resolution without even realizing it.
Could be, stranger things have happened but for today it’s off for more corn and seed to help log yet another episode of the natural and God-given spectacular, “Footprints in the Snow.”
Keep the Faith.