Background Switcher (Hidden)

Blue Skies and Tracks

Sunday, February 12, 2006

I got up late this morning and the juncos were worried I wouldn't get up at all. They wrote me a message in the snow, but didn't get time to finish it. I think it would have said, COME ON JULIE!

Durn birds are getting uppity. I hurried out in my bare feet, leaving a human pugmark in the midst of their tracks. That was the theme for the day, as it turned out: tracks!
There's a mass of cold Canadian air over us, surreally blue skies and crisp, sweet tangy oxygen. I drove into town this morning to take Liam to his grandma Elsa's to make valentines. Almost didn't get there for pulling over and shooting out the window. Here's one of the surest signs spring is coming to southern Ohio: manure spreaders at work. It's too cold to catch the scent, unfortunately; I have wonderful associations with the smell of manure, of time spent on my uncles and aunts' Iowa farms, of endless hours in and around horse barns. I love it!
Another spring sign: red-shouldered hawks coming out of the woodwork, screaming, working out their territory boundaries. They're fearless this time of year, and a bright blue sky brings them out around every curve in the road.
If I had nothing else to do in the world I would make watercolors of some of these barns and skies and fields lightly covered in snow. I'm absolutely itching to paint, but I have to give another talk tomorrow, so that's not going to happen. Rats.
I was beside myself when I saw a couple of inches of snow on wakeup, because I've been waiting all winter for a cat-tracking snow. Specifically, a bobcat-tracking snow. I know they're here. Last summer, I found one set of perfect 2" pugmarks and a scatpile with scratches all around it, right in our meadow by the oil well. I didn't have my camera, resolved to return in the afternoon to record it, and was foiled by a thunderstorm. So Shila and I set off to see what we could see. I never thought we'd hit the bulls-eye...

We hadn't gone far along the stream when we found large, round pugmarks criscrossing the stream--atop narrow, slippery, snow-covered logs. Certainly not the kind of place a canid (other than the Tennessee Turd-Tail) would go. Perfect! There were a few places where the claws even showed, which is understandable considering the slippery substrate (cat tracks generally show no claws). Notice how the forepaw (larger, rear track) has only one claw mark. And it's just a hole in the snow--indicating a sharp recurve to the claw. The smaller hindpaw shows two claws. A canid can't retract its claws, so all will generally show, especially in snow. A cat can have one or two claws out, the rest retracted. This thing was scrambling up sloping snowy boulders and tiptoeing across narrow logs--very catlike. Chet was galvanized by its scent, and he overlaid the cat tracks with his own--I barely snagged this photo before there was a lacework of Boston tracks atop them. The tracks were twice the size and breadth of Chet's, almost perfectly round--bobcat. How wonderful to finally have documentation that they're here. Shila and I were wishing Chet could speak, because he seemed to know what he was smelling. Suddenly Shila got a mental picture of a furry bobcat face, and she was sure Chet had sent it. Dogs are thought to think in pictures, and animal communicators (psychics, if you will) get those pictures. This is the second picture Shila's received from Chet. The first one was of a multiflora rose thorn in his paw pad, a few weeks ago. We came in from a long hike, and Shila asked, "Do you ever check his paws when you come in, for thorns and stuff?" I answered, "No, I haven't, unless he's limping." We both looked at Chet, and he was moving fine, and we forgot all about it. Sure enough, an hour after Shila left, Chet was limping, and I found a rose thorn in his pad. I called Shila and she said a picture of the thorn in his paw had suddenly popped into her head, which is what made her ask the question out of thin air.

Inspired by Shila's ability to receive, I'm going to try to get some of those pictures myself. I have been able to send a few to Chet. Once I was calling him away from chasing cattle, and he was ignoring me. I stopped calling and concentrated hard on a picture of Chet, being trampled by a cow. He came running back, his ears flat to his skull, and cowered at my feet. Maybe it was a coincidence, but he looked like a dog who had gotten a message. Later that same day, we were resting together, and I sent him a picture of the same awful scene. He flattened his ears, looked at me, and moved closer.

We had loads of fun shooting ice pictures again, this time in late afternoon light. Shila is given to flopping down to the ground to get the angles she wants.
Chet takes full advantage of this, and he'll make a beeline to pounce on her, steal her hat or gloves, or just give her a very thorough face washing. He's got a pink washcloth, and he's lightning fast with it. The more Shila laughs the worse he is. We all get to hooting and cackling. I'm sure the bobcats know exactly where we are at all times.
On the return loop, we stopped dead in the trail at an area scratched bare, with a pile of duff and leaves in the middle. The hair went up on Chet's back. I dug down into the pile and found dead-fresh bobcat poo. Shila, who's changed a litterbox or two in her day, confirmed my hunch that the scent was cat. This photo doesn't look like much, but the area scratched bare was a couple of feet across.
So. Bobcats walk our land, breathing the same cold Canadian air that we do. That's a good day's work.


[Back to Top]