Along The Trail 2-19-15

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Editor’s Note: This is a column written by Switzerland County’s David Hewitt. The articles center on all things ‘outdoors’, from hunting and fishing to woodsmanship.

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Freshly fallen snow crunches under my boots. Old man winter has finally man his appearance, as the flakes continue to fall. Looks to be 7- or 8-inches sticking to the hillside of my favorite woods. Other than the breeze pushing the snow, the forest is still, peacefully quiet.

I slowly make my way along the deer trail, checking for shed antlers along the way to check my trail camera.

I’m not the only one on the move this wintry afternoon as evidenced by a couple sets of deer tracks in the snow.

One distinctly larger, the second set, the unmistakable heart shaped footprints of a yearling. A mother doe and last year’s fawn I surmise. The trail looks fresh, the tracks are crisp, not frozen over yet, barely any new snow fallen in them.

I pause for a moment and lean against a massive, old red oak. The tree is standing dead, killed a few years ago by a lightning strike, but somehow still upright. I always expect to see it on the ground each time I come to this woods, but the old giant has managed to stay standing. I can only imagine how old it is – 150? 200 years old?

I make a mental note to remember to count its growth rings once the log crashes to the ground.

I look around the woods, the snow making it postcard perfect. Like a Norman Rockwell scene – the extreme contrast between the bleach-white snowfall and the dark gray and browns of the naked hardwoods.

A few male cardinals stand out, glowing crimson against the white blanket covering the ground. I look down the holler towards the cedar thicket, towards the deer’s tracks. I watch and wait as the snow comes down and my breath circles my head skyward.

In this world of vertical, I’m looking for horizontal.

Deer and their backs are horizontal. I peer towards the cedars and something catches my eye. Shiny and black, I make out the nose of a deer, then its eye followed by the twitch of her ear. The yearling is bedded in the tangle of cedars, blocked from the wind, sheltered from the snow storm, oblivious to my presence.

I kneel down to get a better line of sight and see the fawn’s mother bedded just above her. One facing down the creek, the other facing uphill, covering all their bases. I’m close enough to watch them blink, to see their nostrils flare as they inhale and exhale. To see the snow begin to pile on their backs, not melting, proving how well insulted they are under their hide.

I watch them for a good bit longer, the younger of the two, nodding off, its head dropping as she sleeps. I decide to leave them be and slip out the way I came in.

I never did make it to my trail camera to check for photos, but today’s experience more than made up for that.

Cold, wind and snow, the weathermen and news media would have you believe it’s the end of the world, but for me it was a great afternoon for a walk in the woods.

– David Hewitt