Because we’ve gotten a lot of snow this winter in the mountains, I see animal tracks everywhere. It’s like discovering a hidden world, because I rarely see the animals, but it’s obvious from their tracks that they are everywhere, leading lives I can only guess at.
The most common are the rabbits, and maybe the easiest to decipher because their tracks leave a distinctive pattern of two feet in front and one in back. And there’s tiny delicate tracks that I assume are from the chickarees (gray squirrels), because they are the smallest animal around, except for the birds. I have a mammal identification book that shows tracks in summer, but they look different in snow. So I am free to imagine a whole jungle of animals circling my cabin when I’m not around: cougars and bobcats, weasels, martens.
Sometimes the tracks make perfect sense. Behind the cabin I found a well-trod path of rabbit tracks in the snow going from the fence line to the porch. I assume the rabbits are making use of the dry spot under the porch, a place maybe more difficult for predators to reach them.
And it’s not just animal tracks that I find. On a recent walk around Meeker Park, I discovered human footprints, which are only startling because I thought I had discovered this route on the other side of the valley, that it was my trail, known only to me. Who were these people that followed the same path? Did I know them? Would I meet them someday on this trail? I feel a kinship to these fellow travelers, who found the same route I did, even in their absence.
Beyond my feeble efforts to determine who or what belongs to these tracks, I find these lines in the snow compelling. They are almost never straight, but weave their own scroll across the snow, something haunting and beautiful. They never fail to stop me in my tracks (below).