Reading the Signs

Bird tracks2_resize_levelsI raise the garage door and step outside. Looking down, I see the tracks of a cat, trotting past the door, across the front of the garage, up the densely packed bank of plowed snow, where they disappear from view. I had seen the cat earlier when I went out to the street to put the NetFlix disk in the mailbox. He was patterned like a Holstein in black and white, a sturdy barn cat with a thick winter coat. I had spooked him as I opened the front door, and he tore off across the lawn as if the hammers of Hell were after him.

But that was several hours ago, and now it is time to visit the mailbox again. I move out into the driveway and read the news. Here was where the bunny hopped across the driveway, heading east. But he reached the three foot bank of hard-packed snow and stopped. He stood up to see over the bank. Could he make it in one jump? No. He moved over a foot and stood up again. How about here? No. On he went, hop over a foot, check again, hop, check, hop, check, and finally he decided to go for it. He jumped, but didn’t quite reach the top, and his feet pushed through the snow and trapped him temporarily. He struggled a bit, scarring up the surface of the snowbank, then jumped or fell back down and decided to head west instead.

Over here are the tracks of the deer: one set of large prints, and a set of smaller prints. The larger ones are heading west, and are filled with a thin coating of fresh snow. She passed through last night, before the snow started to fall. The smaller tracks are fresher, empty of snow, heading in the same direction. I look up and see where the smaller deer walked up to the bank, picked her way down, trotted across the driveway, and jumped up the other side.

As I head down to the mailbox, I watch the ground, which is tattooed with a crisscrossing pattern of little birdie feet. I assume they belong to juncos, because I see them down here frequently in this part of the driveway. I look to my left, and there is one section of the snow bank that is etched with a high concentration of these little footprints, and I stop and try to figure out what the attraction was in this particular area. But I have no idea. I shrug and continue to the road.

The snow at the end of the driveway is relatively clear. Apparently most of the critters are savvy enough to stay back from the road. I am glad of this. I open the mailbox, grab the bills and flyers and head back to the house. A pair of prints on the rightward edge of the driveway catches my eye. A fox? Or a dog? Whichever it is, there are only two impressions: the rest are lost in the tire tracks and shoe prints. It seems as if this creature were temporarily suspended here, allowed to touch the ground only long enough to make these two lonely marks, then whisked away, by helicopter perhaps, on a mission to who knows where, to do who knows what.

As I reach the point where the driveway widens into a turn-around, I notice a different set of bird tracks. These are much larger than the junco prints. Excitement flares, briefly. A turkey! But, on closer inspection I realize they aren’t nearly that big. These probably belong to a crow. They make an interesting winding pattern around the tire and shoe treads, but don’t seem to really go anywhere. I wonder what he was looking for.

Just before I reach the door I see where a squirrel has stopped just at the edge of the garage. Four perfect prints, with long sharp toes: the two front feet close together, the back ones farther apart. What was he waiting for? Was he staying still so that he wouldn’t attract the attention of a hawk flying overhead? Was he trying to decide which feeder to raid? Was he wondering where he left that nut he buried last Fall?

Oh, well, it’s cold, and I head back into the garage, hoping the open door hasn’t attracted another wren into the building. I’ll check back later to make sure.