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The Shallow Moon

Tuesday, February 6, 2007


Baker leaves tracks all over the place. I know his sign. He's usually running, and his overlong toenails drag between prints.

As I root around these woods, I'm painfully aware that the complement of mammals I haven't tracked is shrinking. Rats. Actually I haven't found rat tracks yet, but I'd like to.

As the sun sank a couple of days ago, before the cold really clamped down, Baker and I went into the north border near the glass jar terrarium dump to see what we could see. The snow was still quite fresh, and there hadn't been a whole lot of activity, except for one tantalizing set of tracks that meandered through the snow. This is not a big animal, and it's slow, and not particularly graceful. It's got a fairly wide wheelbase. There are foot drags and body marks. The paws are distinctive, a little bearlike. Any guesses?
Let's look more closely at those feet. This animal has wonderfully intricate pads, convoluted, with multiple heel pads instead of one central one like a felid or canid displays. The forefoot is the lower track. Most mammals have small forefeet and larger hind feet. This could be called a plantigrade animal; it doesn't walk on its toes, but rather flat on its soles as we do. There is a whisper of long claw marks on both fore and hind foot. Warmer? Here's the best picture, showing the contrast between fore and hind. This is an animal that's walking methodically with short steps. You might even say it's waddling, from the scuff and drag marks. There are maybe seven inches between each hind footprint.
OK. If you don't have it by now, it's a mustelid, a striped skunk. It's normal for them to be out and about in February, but February is usually a lot kinder than this. We've smelled their scent on the air for the last week. Striped skunks are true hibernators, but they awaken early. I hope this little guy found another hibernaculum before this awful cold hit, and that he's sleeping through it. Perhaps he's feasting on our compost pile. He's welcome to it.
If I had to find only one decent set of tracks this evening, it was lovely to have a new mammal to show you. I broke out onto the Cut and drank in the pastel sky and etched trees.
The moon rose over the orchard, and I looked into its face, searching for something, some kind of answer. On this walk, I had asked myself question after question, and the mysteries just got deeper. Nothing came to me to answer them. I remember being young, and feeling as if I were able to figure things out if I thought long enough about them. Now, I seem only to come up with more and deeper queries. I go digging back to the very elements of my dilemma, and question all I once held true. The line from Cats sprang into my mind:

Has the moon lost her memory?
She is smiling alone

No help there.

At least I knew what kind of tracks I'd found. Is it any wonder I love tracking?

In tracking, the questions have answers; you have only to search well.

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