Some of my favorite nature memories come from a snowy woods before other humans made an appearance. It is both a mystical and exhilarating time! For a brief moment, you are the only one standing within a frozen kingdom too special to describe, and every footfall you make is the first ~ an original. It’s within this dreamlike mix of reality & fantasy that magical things can happen, which they usually do at Jeffrey Woods.
Case In Point: As my husband and I recently entered a late afternoon Jeffrey Woods, a shrill and painfully cold wind whistled through top-heavy pines warning us not to advance any further as it dropped heavy loads of snow from its branches. Still, there is little reward without some courage, so we continued forward discovering a snowy forest floor decorated with footprints that revealed the comings-and-goings of a variety of woodland residents.
Looking for and following footprints in the snow can lead to some very big adventures and help you appreciate the legendary tracking skills of native Americans. We’ve noticed that some animals like mice drag their tails through the snow while the sweet little prints of squirrel paws seem to scurry along logs and branches. Bunnies have bigger back feet and smaller front paws and you can almost imagine them hopping as you uncover their prints.
Even if you don’t know the animal that made the print, it’s fun to follow their trails. Some walk a little and dig a little as they search for food, and that’s usually where you’ll find lots of disturbed soil mixed with the snow. Deer leave a lovely heart-shaped impression that I really enjoy, but what I like the most are bird footprints. Their scratchings in the snow always remind me of a delicately-etched pen & ink drawing.
It’s hard to avoid the curiosity of animal tracks in the woods, and it was much harder to leave after we noticed a beautiful, red fox meandering back and forth on a hill next to the mansion. Our adventure soon got a lot bigger as he scampered up the hill and disappeared into the sleeping beauty staircase in the limestone wall.
We trailed close behind, following his footprints up the curving staircase and onto the mansion terrace. We saw a hole he had quickly dug and then followed his trail across the terrace to another set of stone stairs going down.
Since the sun no longer provided good light, we stopped briefly to view any movement in the darkening landscape. While we had lost the crafty red fox, we were instead rewarded with a herd of deer as they romped, played, kicked up their back legs and butted each other in the dimming light.
What a wonderful way to enjoy and end a snowy day and take a walk on the wild side!