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Handprints on the Land

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Boy, there was some weird energy flying around today. I went into town right after dropping the kids off at the bus stop. And didn't bring a camera with me. And wouldn't you know the frost was lying on the fields and some cattle in Buck's pasture were just cresting a smooth sere hill with the sun rising behind them, and I almost went into a fetal position. I guess I'm kind of a photographer now, because it causes me physical pain to miss a shot like that. Not bringing the camera has something to do with its not having a case yet, being worth so darn much, and too big and fragile to fling into my purse wherever I go. So, because I only want fabulous 10.2 mpxl pictures now, but I'm afraid something will happen to my Rebel, I don't take either camera and miss the shot of the year. Duh.

At Wal-Mart, I took my watch to the jewelry counter to have the battery replaced, my sweet little Timex Expedition, and the woman couldn't get the back replaced. The manager couldn't either. When they finished with it, it was all beat up and good for nothing. So she slid three new Timexes across the counter and told me to take my pick. I didn't want a new watch, but I got one anyway. Maybe it's just as well I didn't bring my camera to town.

I came home then, to find a hostile comment on my (seemingly inocuous) prior post, the one about mosses and ferns. Seems I didn't do any measurements to quantify just how tight the bark was on that pine the pileated woodpecker was scaling yesterday. Well, I haven't been mistaken for a scientist for quite awhile. I take walks in the woods, I write about it. There are no charts or graphs in my book or blog, last I checked. There's none as queer as folk.

Immediately following that I got chewed out by an editor for something else I'd done, again innocently. Then I got a letter saying a course I'd proposed had been rejected. OK, well, I guess the moon is in Weird. There was so much stuff coming down I put a hat on.

I looked at the work waiting on the drawing board, did a couple of kinglet drawings, and couldn't draw any more. There was nothing left but to go to the woods. I stole into the closet, got my hikers and a down vest, shouldered camera and binoculars, and crept noiselessly down the stairs, right under the nose of a sleeping Chet Baker, who had positioned himself so as to catch me should I try to get out without him. Whew! I'll do anything not to have to face those sad eyes of his. (Later, when we went to pick the kids up, Baker got a little fresh air. Poor guy.)

From today's walk: I was amazed at the strength it must have taken to shred this sassafras, even though I have no urge to quantify it. I can tell you that I couldn't budge the fiber with my fingers. Pileated woodpeckers are strong birds, dig? Take me to court. I'll testify as an inexpert witness.

I've become fascinated by my late neighbor, Gary, five years gone, whose bottle gardens and watering can were featured in a previous post. I've decided to look for more traces of him, and find out more about him. This morning, I ran into another neighbor, who filled me in on a number of things about Gary. My friend works in the grocery store in town, and we talked so long I melted two half-gallons of Edy's Grand and had to take them back to the cooler and get hard ones when we were done. It was just flippin' fascinating. Gary kept a log book in which he recorded all the animals he shot and ate. 100 squirrels in one year. No wonder I've had exactly three fox squirrel sightings on our land. No wonder all the squirrels run like banshees when I approach. And that's not all. He ate EVERYTHING. And, apparently, right off our land, too. He marked his trails with beer cans stuck on branches. I've found those. Now I know who made the wide trails, too wide for a deer. And he had a walking route to a store about 5 miles away that went entirely through forest. Wow, wow, wow. I tried furiously to remember everything my neighbor was saying without being gauche and whipping out my Moleskine notebook in his face. As soon as I got home I typed it all up. It's good stuff. I'm hanging on to it. I feel another Gary piece coming on.

So this afternoon I walked in Gary's footsteps. Yes. He was here. Blatz, the worst beer in Ohio, mother's milk to him.
Snow was on the logs, and only on the logs. I decided to see who had been here in this quiet woods, where nothing stirred, so I trotted from log to log, reading signs.
The gray squirrels on our land must be the wiliest in Ohio, after the hunting pressure they've seen. Here are their tracks.
In this one, you can see the marks his haunches made as he sat down to eat or groom himself.
A possum walked here. If you study it, you can see his thumb sticking out to the right in the lower handprint.
I was beginning to flip out at how many species seem to like to walk atop logs when I found two logs neatly lined with coyote tracks. Oh, how cool. This is the hind foot overstriking the front foot of an animal heading to the right. Here's another coyote print from a different log, same kind of overstrike, probably the same animal.

I sure don't see many ruffed grouse any more, but I'm pretty sure this is the track of one that hopped over the log, pausing briefly on top.

I ended my walk reflecting on man's heavy imprint on the land. The animals' tracks are ephemeral, melting with the snow. Here are ours: This is erosion slump, caused by cutting the trees off a steep slope, and letting the cattle run all over it. Of course, this happened 50 years ago, but the scar remains. The snow, a lacy highlight. Here's what slump looks like in an overgrazed pasture. See the red scar, and the terraces and shelves? Once again, we've got timbering and cattle to thank for the shape of the land. There's nothing to hold the soil, no roots, and it just falls away and winds up in the stream, then in Goss' Fork, then in the Little Muskingum, then in the Ohio River, and on and on. The highest use of land this steep is renewable forest, but everyone cuts and cuts and turns cattle out onto it.

And yet, it's better to hear cattle lowing than lawnmowers. I decided to be happy in all the unseen neighbors I'd found today, in the clues I'd uncovered about Gary, and in the hope that tomorrow won't be quite as bizarre.


Hi Julie,

May I use the possum paw marks as an illustration for one of my poems. I don't know how to contact you, because I don't know your email. The poem will go into a uni creative writing magazine, and you will be acknowledged. Hope to hear from you.

Hi Aiman,

You may contact me at
where there is an online comment box. I'll get back to you.
Thanks for your interest.


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