Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Leaving a Trail

Snow Show Trail - Purchase Photo
I rise early to the cell phone belting out some little ringtone.  I head downstairs and do the usual things:  eat, let the dog out, check email, then I pack a snack, water, camera gear, and try to find my snowshoes among the garbage pile that is my garage.  Ah, there they are, right by the door.  My dog is very excited; she sees me lace my boots and thinks it’s time to go.  She looks at me as if I kicked her in the throat as I close the door, leaving her behind.  Sorry, I’ve got the camera bag, not the gun case this morning.  I’m greeting the sun today, or at least that is my intention when I start up the car later than I planned at 5:55.  I remind myself that come June I’ll have to be turning the key of my Honda at 3:00 am to greet the sun at my destination. The thought sends chills down my spine, the cold does not. 
I travel down the road without the aid of coffee.  I am alert, sort of.  Most traffic is leaving the countryside, heading off to work.  I’m headed to the marsh and I’m thankful.  As I ramble down County Hwy D, an owl flies low over the road.  I have never seen so many owls as I have since I started the project.  I’d better watch where am going.  Crap! Did I just drive through Borth?  I check the speedometer, then the rearview mirror:  no flashing lights.  Good.

Snowy Sedge Meadow Sunrise

I arrive at Poygan State Wildlife Area at 6:32, sunrise was at 6:31 but there is no danger of missing anything today, the overcast skies have taken care of that.  Time to strap on my snowshoes.  They are wooden, bound together with rawhide.  They are out of date, just like the film camera in my backpack, unlike the digital camera around my neck and the GPS now turned on.  I take off over the marsh sedges, grasses, and flowers buried under snow, their empty seed pods and heads sticking out of the snow.  I try to recognize them:  blue-vervain, marsh milkweed, asters, mints, wool grass, tussock sedge, etc.  I see way too much reed canarygrass.  “Go away and stop consuming this sedge meadow!”   I cross one of the many drainage ditches.  For a time I follow another snowshoer’s trail.  This trail visits one rat house after another.  I guess it won’t be long before a bundle of Muskrat pelts are on their way to Russia, or maybe China.  The fur trade never ended.  
Mink Feet
The wind has kicked up.  I set up the big camera on its tripod.  The cold bites at my fingers and the metal camera sucks the heat from them.  Ten minutes later the picture is taken, I’ll see if it turns out in a month or so.   I turn around to see the clouds breaking up and snap a quick photo with the digital camera.  It will be the only camera I use for the rest of the day.  I trudge through the marsh for an hour, listening to ravens and the wind before taking the ridge of spoils (dredge material) along the drainage ditch.   All along and in the ditch were tracks from the night before alongside the tracks from many days ago.  Coyote tracks crisscrossed every which way while the tracks of mink and muskrat stay within several feet of the ditch.  I like mink.  Like many weasels they are curious and energetic.  They've often stopped to watch me as I stopped to watch them. I find a hole then several more where they entered the water.  Each hole is linked by the foot prints and belly slides of another weasel, the River Otter.  One otter trail breaks from the ditch to the bank where the otter slid repeatedly down the spoil bank for no other reason than fun.  There must be enough fish, frogs, etc. in this ditch to keep the otter fueled all winter.  I’m somewhat surprised.   
Then it’s back to the car.  At the car there is the smell of skunk in the air and their tracks on the ground.  I lower my backpack into the car, my back is relieved to have the pack off, and my stomach glad for a granola bar.  I take off my now sweaty jacket, scan the horizon one last time and head home.   

River otter trail: line moving from center to right.  Wildlife biologists use these distinctive trails to conduct otter population surveys from the air.


  1. I found the account and photos very engaging - a good mini-view of wi winter landscape - hope to see more!

  2. Thank you. I'll do my best to keep up with posts. It's raining today, so I won't be going out.