Signs of holiday visitors

Field in winter

If you’ve noticed a slight sparseness to the posts here over the last week or so, it’s because I’ve been spending a lot of time on various holiday projects. For whatever reason, maybe because I’ve finally got a space where I can do so, I’ve decided to do a few home-made projects as Christmas gifts this year. Last weekend was my mom’s birthday (because it’s less than two weeks before Christmas, it kind of gets rolled in to the same gift-prep boat), which I made her a horse-head hat for. From there I’ve carried on to other gifts, and the poor sewing machine has barely had a rest. I’ll be doing some Christmas baking tomorrow, and then it’s off to get together with the family for a few days of holidays. My youngest sister took her holidays in the week preceding Christmas, rather than the week after – you really need that extra time to get everything done!

I’ve made a bit of time to take Raven out for her walk, which she really needs to get or otherwise we have a very restless dog pestering us to play ball in the evening. I buckle up the snowshoes and hike off back into our fields along the trails we’ve made, which are quickly becoming well-packed. The several inches of snow we received a couple of weeks ago has stuck around (and shows no signs of leaving now until March – it seemed like an unusually abrupt transition from November browns to winter whites this year). Raven has a blast tearing around in it, and I have to admit the landscape looks quite lovely, especially at dusk, with the setting sun casting an orange-pink glow on the western side of the snow hummocks, their eastern side shaded with pastel blues.

Deer track

One of the neat things about snow cover is that it reveals the movements of the local wildlife, normally hidden from view during the warmer months. You get a chance to see what pathways are traversed by which animals; suddenly you’re aware of rabbit highways and squirrel burrows and the foraging routes of mice. Deer make especially large and noticeable tracks, and when out a few days ago I discovered a set of them leading out of the woods and down to our now-frozen pond, using the trail that Dan and I had packed down with the snowshoes. The next day I found some more – many also following our snowshoe paths – heading into the cedar groves at the back of the fields. In the summer, would we be aware of these beautiful creatures following silently in our steps? But in the winter we can have a small peek into their world.

There seemed to be three sizes of deer tracks following our trails; a rather large set, at slightly smaller set, and a quite petite set. I really hope that at least one of them happens to be young Joe Buck, who I haven’t seen since before hunting season when he happened to wander by while Raven was outside and she chased him off the property. The little tracks are so tiny my first thought would have been doe with fawn, except it’s quite the wrong season for dependent fawns. The mating season usually occurs around the end of November.

Deer track

It’s interesting how variable deer tracks are. Their hooves are actually two separate pieces on the ends of toe-like digits, rather than the single hoof of horses. The separate toes given them greater traction and the ability of the toes to separate also creates a broader surface area in softer substrates.

Deer track

I like that in this one you can see the dew claws (why they’re still called claws in ungulates who don’t really have claw-like nails, I don’t know), which belong to reduced toes and don’t serve much function (though in soft conditions, such as here, or in wet mud, they may touch the ground and could potentially help with grip, I suppose).

Deer tracks in snow

Raven checks out the tracks as they head back into the forest. I haven’t seen any deer around here in many weeks, but clearly they’re about, and just staying well back of the house and its crazy black dog. It’s nice to know they’re here still, even if they never come say hello.