In a fun way, the snow gives us the gift of sight

OUT ON A LIMB: After the second snowfall of the year, I saw a trail of footprints down the side of my house

One of the many things I like about snow, is the evidence it captures of the secret creatures that stalk around us but which we never see.

Getting up one morning last week after the second snowfall of the year, I saw a trail of footprints down the side of my house – a cat exploring its neighbourhood haunts. He probably follows a regular route every night but usually leaves no evidence that I can see. The snowfall, however, captures his passage like a snapshot. Where does he go? I could follow him and I do into the backyard but end my tracking at the fence.

I enjoy tracking, the little bit I can do. I am by no means a very competent tracker but there is something about it that is appealing. It used to be a required skill of course, to our hunter-gatherer ancestors. I heard a speaker recently describe himself as “lapsed hunter gather” and I love that description having taken it up for myself. He was referring to the psycho-biological processes in our body that evolved to make us the people we are. But anyway, it’s amazing how the landscape opens up like a book waiting to be read by a person who knows the language.

I get a taste of it when snow falls. Even a blind urbanite like myself can read the evidence of passing creatures when it snows.

A couple of weekends ago we went out to the Loveland Bay area to select our Christmas tree, a tradition in our family. We get our permit from the B.C. Forest Service office on Dogwood Street and they give us a map of where we can harvest a Christmas tree from the side of the logging roads.

I still feel a degree of guilt cutting down a young tree but the Christmas tree permit does serve a function in thinning out the growth alongside the logging roads. It’s just nice to have a semi-wild tree. Some folks like artificial trees, some like to buy a cultivated one, we like to go out into the woods and get our own.

My wife and I both grew up in isolated places adjacent to wilderness where our families would just head off into the nearby bush and get a tree. The Forest Service permit allows us to keep that tradition alive in our own family.

This year’s tree hunt – and sometimes it is a hunt to find a tree that wouldn’t qualify as a “Charlie Brown” tree – was done in the snow, which was fun. As we walked along this one stretch of logging road near Loveland Bay, we saw all kinds of footprints. Big cloven elk hooves left a trail of prints down the side of the road.

The hand-like prints of a raccoon meandered from one side of the road to the other. Distinct clawmarks in the snow exposed his momentary presence.

Another trail is left by an animal I couldn’t identify, maybe it was just a dog or a small cougar? The most fun print was left by a rabbit – four prints in a W-formation showed his bounding passage.

So, the snow is nice because it shows us we share the land with other creatures. It’s one of the many gifts we get from living in this wonderful region.

Merry Christmas everyone.