Deep snow covers the forest. Hemlock bows bent under the weight of a blizzard makes branches intersect the deep white cover forming arches that sculpt the woods. Howling winds reshape the landscape creating little eddies against large trunks.
Save the wind, life in the forest during a storm is sullen. Most who inhabit this environment choose to lay low. Deer bed in groups beneath heavy hemlock cover on south facing slopes. Partridge bury themselves in deep snow and stay free from the penetrating wind. Coyotes stay with family groups and lay down in tight balls under partial cover letting the snow pile up around their dense fur while covering the nose with their fluffy tails. Voles and mice, already living in snow tunnels created along the forest floor, search for food amongst the readily available detritus. Porcupines hide in their den; the art and pleasure of multiplying is not far off. Chickadees, in a miniature act of defiance, are still active and clamor over the seed of ironwoods and birch to insure enough energy to stay warm on this snowy day. And the king of the northern forest, the black bear, sleeps quietly and dreams of sunny days while hibernating in a den prepared in the autumn.
As I move short distances on snow shoes I cannot help to notice that there are no tracks to follow in the 16 inches of snow. There is still more to come. Yesterday, before the storm moved it, there was much wildlife sign; typical of the day before a nor’easter. Deer tracks were plentiful and following them brought me to secret stashes of acorns where they were consumed in a sudden desire to add calories for the next winter event. Clippings, the end of hemlock branches, covered the snow. Porcupines seeking food had spent the precious night nibbling on branch tips. There were coyote tracks galore; perhaps the reason that the deer decided not to stay in any one spot for an extended period. Fisher tracks were found along the top of a stone wall where small rodents might be located to provide a meal before the snow arrived. A nervous ermine darted along a stump in the distance, its white body blending in with the snowy background.
Today I must be content with the blowing wind, the falling snow, and the cold winter air biting at my face. My beard is full of ice where condensation freezes from my breath. I move from tree to tree enjoying the weather and examining branch tips to see which succulent leaf buds have been used as food. There are always clues to be found in the forest no matter what the weather.
The steel gray sky seems lighter to the northwest. Perhaps the storm is winding down. I check the watch attached to my belt loop and note that it is almost lunch time. A slow steady trek back to the homestead is in order where a nice venison stew awaits in the crock pot.
Winter is here for sure. I hope it stays around for a while so that we can get adequately reacquainted.