Sunday, March 11, 2012

Sunday Story: Amberfish and Cobalt Shadowfish by Bruce Mero

Amberfish and Cobalt Shadowfish
by Bruce H. Mero

          Brilliant cobalt skies form a backdrop to a vocal, northbound flock of Canada Geese. It is still a month until the Equinox and the snowpack is already beginning to shrink and hint of spring. Several warm days and nights and yesterday, a thunderstorm, had compacted the snow; a sub-zero overnight had hardened its surface. Several inches of lake effect had fallen before daybreak and skiing conditions were ideal. The new snow was a fresh palette upon which the history of the last hours was recorded in the tracks of resident wildlife.  Before we are to the barn we find that a Striped Skunk has visited overnight, it wandered about the yard, scratched for seeds under the bird feeder, then sauntering off to the north. That a skunk is about seems to signal the coming of warmer weather. Skunks are not true hibernators. They will sleep through colder times, but emerge from their dens to forage for food when the winter's nights begin to warm.

          We are out on the snow in our cross country skis as often as we are able. Summer's tractor roads are winter ski trails through the back forty. We'd no sooner skied around the barn when we encountered a pair of coyote tracks. It was apparent that they'd been sniffing around the chicken coop, then passed through the blueberry patch hot on the trail of a Cottontail Rabbit, its fast departure evident in the distance between its tracks. The coyote pair had come from the east and we followed their tracks for nearly a quarter mile; they found yesterday's ski trail an easy route through the snow.
         At several places their tracks detoured, once to rip apart a tufted mound of grass, looking for a mouse meal, no doubt, and a second time to briefly follow the tracks of a Partridge. They may have been successful at the mouse nest, but the bird was far ahead of them and its trail cold. We left our pair at the eastern edge of our property, our ski route turning south at that point, the coyote tracks continued east and into the adjacent marsh.

          We then followed, for a time, a pair of intertwined fox prints and assumed the prints were those of the amorous pair of foxes we encountered last week, but closer scrutiny revealed that the tracks were made by a single individual who had doubled back on itself in a cunning ruse to trick a elusive quarry. The pursued may have been the red squirrel who had made a dozen sets of tracks moving back and forth between a stand of White Pines and a brush pile in an adjacent hedge row. It was my guess that the squirrel was ferrying pine cones from his stash in the brush pile to his nest in the pines while the weather and snow surface favored such endeavor. At the base of one pine is a telltale pile of cast-off bracts and spines of the cones the squirrel had dismembered to get at the seeds. The distance between its leaps on the snow showed a hurried pace. Was it the threat of the Snow Owl we'd seen a week earlier or the scent of fox that quickened its movement?
        The blue of the sky was the color of the shadows which were growing shorter as the sun rose higher in the sky. Beech leaves fluttered in the breeze as a school of Amberfish; atop the snow, Cobalt Shadowfish moved among the trees and shrubs. The tracks of another wandering partridge weaved between the stems and shadows, across our intended path and into the Spruces. It is curious how a partridge will circle a Spruce several times before moving along. Is it scouting this night’s lodging beneath the branches? Surely, it is close-by yet, inside such a hollow place and hiding from my intrusion. It will take the near miss to flush it from beneath the branches. If it flushes it will so unannounced, with great commotion and a great surprise to me; it will momentarily take my breath. It doesn't flush, however and we move along and leave the bird to resume its wander. At one point the tracks of a Snowshoe Rabbit crosses those of the Partridge. I imagine them greeting one another as they passed.

         Again, more fox tracks, less fresh than those of the partridge and moving deliberately into the southerly breeze. Something in the wind has its attention.

          I find myself planning next season’s wood harvest as we ski passed Ash and Cherry and Maple. Unwittingly, I study each tree, the way it leans, the structure of the branching and, in my mind's eye visualize the way it will fall when it is the right time. The chainsaw will take those less than perfect and leave the straight ones. Each is felled many times before it falls. Winter’s firewood has been taken from these acres each of the more than thirty years we have been on this farm; and many winters previous and more to come. The harvesting of trees here is a selective process for us with an eye kept toward the objective that the forest will come to this land again. The evergreens we have planted in these fields serve only as an interim crop until the hardwoods succeed. It has been nearly 150 years since these soils felt the summer shade of a hardwood forest and this is our purpose. In the process we gain tangibly and intangibly. We are inexplicably tied to this place and look at its many elements with fondness, particularly its trees.

          Under the canopy of Maples we find that yesterday’s storm dropped limbs and whole trees onto the ground, our trail is blocked at several places by new windfalls. The severed crown of a Beech hangs fifty feet above, still. Under the Beech the purpose for which the second set of fox tracks moved deliberately into the wind from the previous field. The remains of a partridge, reduced now to a few feathers and bones, lay scattered about on the surface of the snow. The feet of many foxes had packed the powder in a circle of several yards. To and from this packed area, in neat, radiating lines, are fox trails.  Feathers hanging high above in a Sugar Maple chronicled for my imagination, the fate of the hapless partridge. It had been killed and eaten by owl or goshawk the previous night and parts not eaten above, discarded to fall to the snow surface; then scavenged by foxes.  Even the feathers will be taken away eventually, some we will find lining bird nests when we clean out the bluebird boxes a year from now.

          Along the stone wall we discover a set of tracks that leave us baffled. It looks as though a critter had dragged a bunch of sticks along the trail behind it. Finally it dawned on us that we were looking at Porcupine tracks, the "stick dragging thing" were quills scoring the snow. The wall itself is a marvel this time of season as the snow begins to retreat from the sun kissed stones.  That these stones may have been placed there over a hundred and fifty years ago is amazing. The mosses and lichens which have colonized the rock surfaces are now basking in the sun after months of snow cover.  

          More fox tracks as we turn toward home, all headed to the spot we'd just come from. One set of them, however veers to follow the tracks of another Snowshoe Rabbit, its huge rear feet perfectly adapted to moving quickly upon the snow. It will take a cleaver fox to make breakfast of this rabbit. A more likely quarry are the field mice whose tracks we infrequently see atop the snow during our ventures. Occasionally we will happen upon those places where the mice and the fox have met, holes in the snow where the fox has intruded the mouse's under-snow realm.  Our imagination  witnesses the fox stopping, slowly turning its head to have both ears precisely locate the sounds beneath the surface, then rearing onto its back feet and plunging its forepaws and head deeply into the snow, emerging with a mouse in its lips which it quickly swallows with little effort. Seems as though it would take many field mice to fill a fox's belly.

          The skiing is fast atop the frozen surface. We detour from our trail to circle around the pond and there encounter the tracks of a mink. We very rarely see a mink tracks on the snow and I have never seen a mink in the flesh. Surely it is seeking a meal of muskrat this time of year, the frogs and fish it usually dines upon are scarce now. The muskrats are under the ice and safe, so the mink trail moves off and into the woods in great bounds.

           It is a short ski from the pond to the barn. Astonishingly we discover the tracks of a score of Wild Turkeys who have been in the yard while we were skiing our trails. They found the bird feeders and cleaned up any seeds and corn chips on the ground beneath the feeders, then moved along. They'll visit here again, no doubt before the snow melts entirely.

          In the sky is a vocal flock of northbound Canada Geese silhouetted against a backdrop of cobalt.


  1. HI.. I am sure blogger plays tricks on me and i dont see the new posts come up on some sites i visit.. never the less i have seen this one and have scrolled down a fair way and have caught up with your posts.. firstly, you write so well and very descriptively, you could write a book i would think!! and all your creations i have just seen are fabulous.. i love the buttons.. they are amazing.. and your pussy cat is perhaps naughty but in my experience they do sleep anywhere they feel like!! i hope you have had a great weekend!! i love the snow photos as i have never seen let alone felt snow!!

  2. Again the most vibrant and descriptive scenery ever put to words. Love the Sunday storytime. Sidenote, how lucky to see porcupines with the stick dragging thingies...LOL!
    Wonderful morning visuals. Thank you! :)

  3. Beautiful pictures, I would so love to see snow everything just looks so pretty. Thanks for sharing.


I LOVE comments. Come on. Leave me one. They make me smile!