Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Making Tracks

It's been a dry winter so far.  Enough so, that even though this is only my third winter here, it's felt wrong and I have been more and more tense as each clear day arrives.  A pressure, like that before a thunderstorm, has been building up in me.  I've been keeping it under wraps, so as not to snap at my family, but each day I stand outside and ask: "Why, why don't you snow more?"  It's felt as though the early snow on the ground has been left to taunt me.  I've been taking it personally and, until today, I have been really quite cross with Winter.
As usual I've been checking and double-checking the NOAA weather forecast to see what could be in store for us, and this week seems to be our best bet in ages for the 'chance of snow' and 'snow likely' forecasts to actually come true.
So I took advantage to run a loop on the state land across from our house before the storm came this morning.  Within a quarter mile dozens of ravens and a bald eagle rose from the ground and wheeled around me.  These birds are often the first indicator of a predator's kill and their presence must always be respected.  Sure enough deer parts were spread out over the ground, although my senses told me they were the remains from a hunter rather than a cougar or other big animal.  I felt unfazed and carried on, feeling guilty that I had disturbed the birds.
As I climbed the hill, what little snow we have got deeper and the quad track I was following disappeared.  But the hill was crissed-crossed with many, many coyote tracks and I made my choice to follow these to see where they led me.  The coyotes headed out of the state land and onto private property so I turned and followed the whitetail deer tracks which led back down the hill.  So engrossed was I with following these tracks I didn't notice the camouflage tent until I was almost upon it (well, it was camouflage).
It unnerved me.  And I veered away quickly, afraid almost to look at it,  so nervous that any noise my dog made caused me to flinch and my stomach lurch.  It seemed so odd the tent was there.  We're well out of the main hunting seasons and it's below freezing most of the time, so not exactly camping weather.  Once I was far enough away, I took stock of the situation and reminded myself there was no fire, no signs of life and no human footprints.  And I took comfort in my bear spray and the skinning knife attached to my running belt.
Then I got angry.  Here I was contently following animal tracks, but I was relieved that I had not seen any human tracks.  Even if I had come across bear, moose or cougar tracks, while I would have been on alert, they would not have instilled the same fear that I sometimes get from human tracks.  It is so frustrating that, especially as a woman, the biggest threat to my safety out here is from that of my own species.  It's wrong.  And there is nothing I can do about it except be aware, prepared and keep my 'spidey' senses on high alert when out alone.
I looped round and met the old road that cuts through the land and headed back down towards my house.  Some ravens had returned to the deer carcass but the eagle had not returned.  In its place a flock of small birds, no doubt too afraid to eat when it was there, had joined the feast, and I felt less guilty about disturbing them earlier.
And I'm glad they all had a chance to eat when they did.  Shortly after I returned home, the winter storm came, and I'm sure the carcass, the tracks and perhaps even the camouflage tent are beneath the snow now.