I was splitting wood early in the morning when the crows got rowdy. I put down the maul and glanced at Dryden Hill. The crow commotion was directed at a soaring eagle, species unknown at this point, but I took it as a sign for a hike. Climbing the hill might medicate the soul and banish the winter blues for a while. Within minutes I would speculate on whether or not those crows had also been calling me. (Click on photos to enhance image)
Climbing the seasonal road up Dryden Hill I slammed to a stop at the same location where I saw the “fisher tracks” one month ago (see my post “Views From Dryden Hill” 12/29/11). They were there again– same place, in fresh snow, and I thought, wow, this creature is habitual! In my first revisit of the Dryden heights I crossed the tracks of a fisher again. What a coincidence, considering that these solitary hunters regularly cover a territory of 10 to 30 square miles. But taking photos of the prints, I saw a red flag and heard a lightbulb pop. A flush of excitement gave way to sudden doubt. After checking the nearby stream and finding obvious raccoon tracks, I was starting to see them reflected in these tracks along the road. The crows I’d heard earlier may have been stressed by a passing eagle, but they may have been also calling me to a lesson.
My earlier Dryden post has been popular, thanks to the fisher track reference. As I walked up the hill, turning west on the gravel road, I started feeling bad about that. I was probably mistaken about those tracks and I hoped like hell I hadn’t led any of my readers astray. I know readers were checking those photos and probably scratching their heads, too kind to comment on a likely error. I could look back at my haste to identify those tracks and observe a classic example of “I’ll see it when I first believe it” syndrome. Sort of like, if you believe strongly enough in UFOs you’re eventually going to see one. The good news was that fishers have been seen and photographed on trail cam in the Greenwood area, but the bad news was that the tracks I found were looking more like coon prints every minute. I could do one of two things now; I could find a cozy den on Dryden Hill, crawl inside and hide/hibernate for a while, or I could whistle the theme of Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue and get on with my walk.
Speaking of holes (like cellar holes), I was finding them nearby. There was a stone cellar in the sumacs by the road. There was a farmhouse cellar in the woods and another one with warped stone walls now overshadowed by lilac bushes. I tried to picture a lonely farm wife planting those bushes in a quiet hour many years ago, never imagining the day when someone would pause here trying to recreate a moment in her life. Beyond the cellar stood the ruins of a barn and silo, gray stone, rusted metal, and a bald tire to remind us that this place once housed a set of human labors, pain and joy, and hopes for better days. I was drawn to the ruins this day, for sure. And then I saw it– on the far side of the broken-backed wooden structure by the barn’s foundation. Muddy tracks in the snow. A creature had entered the shelter there and left no sign that it made an exit. The tracks appeared to be from the same animal that had crossed the road downhill. Raccoon. I could see how the snow distorted the ideal image of a coon track, the kind I’ve seen pictured in books and found in mud along the river banks. The granular natures of snow and sand and pictures in the mind are worlds apart from each other.
I moved through the woods and came to a small forgotten graveyard by the road. Weathered nineteenth-century stones stood leaning from the winds and storms and the push of growing trees. Today marked the anniversary of my father’s death, but his ashes knew a softer place than this, among the trees he planted rather than facing the cold winds of an open hilltop. Groves of evergreen or windblown field, none of it matters much to the bones and ashes drifting through endless space.
I returned to the hollow on an old town roadway that is now a hunter’s path through the woods. I startled groups of deer, followed a fox track and then decided I was done with it, at least for now. I would stick with tracking brook trout in their small stream homes and leave it at that. Crossing the stream near my house I saw more evidence of hungry raccoons. There were those prints, like a tiny hand with fingers spread, an ideal image, almost. In this warmest winter that we’ve seen in years, raccoons were out like never before. Maybe I could blame my faulty tracking skills on global warming rather than stupidity… but that wouldn’t be too smart.