When they say nothing at all…

By Boak Wiesner

As I make my way down to the boardwalk, the susurrus of wind rustling the dried leaves still on the oaks and, especially, the ironwoods surrounds me with an aural reminder that winter now has us firmly in its grasp. A stiff breeze chills me whenever I’m out of the lee of the forest or tall marsh plants. Amazingly, the sun is quite hot when it’s out.

Just a few birds around, the usual Downies and Nuthatches. So I turn my attention to the riot of mammal tracks around the bases of the trees and on the firm snowpack. We can learn much about their doings by observing them. As the Professor writes: “Every farm is a textbook of animal ecology; woodsmanship is the translation of the book.”

A Deer Mouse has bounded over the snow, dragging its tail behind it. Perhaps it was being chased. Mice do walk but when they need to move, they hop like rabbits, two front feet, then two hind feet landing in the same impression.

A squirrel had a rather leisurely meal of Red Oak acorns perched on the bare, sunny edge of the boardwalk. This midden indicates his alfresco dinner had to be planned, as there aren’t any acorns in the marsh, of course; they had to be brought here to be consumed.

Another lunch site. An ermine, called this when it’s white in the winter, caught a deer mouse, whose tail markings can be seen at the scene. (I feel a bit shortsighted in that I’m not providing a measuring tape alongside the tracks, because my readers can’t see how big they are, nor how far apart each set of tracks is, indicating the size of the animal that made them.)

The boardwalk becomes a thoroughfare above the snow. Here, an opossum has clambered along the edge. Note how its forefeet look like little hands. Opossums climb well with their opposable thumbs.

An Ironwood catches my attention. This is not the familiar pattern at all – they nearly always grow singly. What made this one send up several trunks from the same root system? Long winter nights are a good time to ponder such questions.

Boak Wiesner is a Minnesota Naturalist Volunteer

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