"Having a wider heart and mind is more important than having a larger house" - Venerable Cheng YenJanuary 12th, 2011. The snow along the roadside was a good two to three feet deep. Few people were driving this back road in East Lyme Connecticut because the season's first major snowfall was just wrapping up. The people who were driving were going slowly and trying to avoid sliding off the road. Not me. When I approached the forest road that leads into Nehantic State Forest I gunned it and pointed my truck at the snow bank. With a soft but solid thud I buried my truck in the snow. Then I reached for my snowshoes.
|Buried in the snow. My truck "parked" in a snow bank.|
|The entrance to the East Lyme unit of Nehantic State Forest. In summer Cerulean Warblers can be heard here. Now a cold stillness blanketed the forest.|
|Self portrait showing snowshoe gear. Mountain trail snowshoes, trekking poles with snow baskets, gaiters. The cotton jeans are a clear indication I'm not dressed for backcountry but more for a stroll.|
|The snow clad forest seemed silent and bereft of life. Silent it was but bereft it was not.|
As I walked through the deep snow, at a blistering pace of about 1 mile per hour, I listened to the forest. It seemed nearly birdless. Many of the wintering songbirds would now be clustered around feeding stations at human residences. I did hear a few though. The call of a Red-bellied Woodpecker rang distantly. I can not help but compare the stark differences in spring and summer deciduous woodland noises against the winter. So much life can be heard in the warmth and so little in the cold. That doesn't mean life isn't there, it just means much less of it is avian.
Watching the snow for tracks I saw abundant sign of the seemingly ever present Gray Squirrel. These tracks often start and end, not surprisingly, at the base of trees. I did not see or hear a squirrel during my walk, and by that, one could be forgiven for thinking they were not here. But the myriad trails of their prints spoke in silent eloquence of their numbers. At one point I found ridges poking up out of the snow like the bulging veins on a body builder's arms. These were tunnels of a small mammal, perhaps a Short-tailed Shrew or a Masked Shrew. Shrews are voracious little predators eating their own body weight or more every day, and the Short-tailed (Blarina brevicauda Say) has the unique adaptation of a neurologically toxic saliva. Yes, that would be poison spit. Not to mention it emits ultrasonic sounds for echolocation. Good thing they're not the size of a dog, they'd make a Black Bear look like Winnie the Pooh.
|Tunnels in the new snow, Short-tailed Shrew?. A little difficult to see the tunnels in this un-enhanced image.|
|Here, by enhancing the image's contrast, you can clearly see the meandering sub-surface movement of the foraging animal.|
|The bark of the Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera), or Yellow Polar, held the snow in the recess while the ridges were mostly scoured clean.|
|Simple winter beauty.|
On January 17th I headed to Pleasant Valley Preserve in Lyme for another bout of Connecticut Snowshoeing. I didn't know what the trail conditions would be so I also packed my cross country skis. I figured the snowshoes would still be preferable at this point but one never knows. I timed my hike to extend into the night as the sky was clear and the waxing moon was nearing full. I love the forest at night and frequently hike in the dark.
|Pleasant Valley Preserve sign and map in Lyme, Connecticut.|
|Cottontail tracks around brush pile and at rabbit hole entrance. White-footed Mouse tracks can be seen at upper left.|
|Northern Saw-whet (Aegolius acadicus). Photo by AJ Hand|
|The nearly full moon over the Red Cedars of Pleasant Valley.|
The frozen Eight Mile River in the moonlight.
|The tracks of what was likely a White-footed Mouse end at a hole created when the Mouse decided to return to tunneling under the snow.|
|Beauty, silence, cold, a nocturne most wonderful.|
Arriving at the forest road I found it unplowed, so dropping my truck into four-wheel drive, I plowed through to the parking area. From this small gravel (now snowy) lot I have started many a walk in the forest. Tonight I saw that someone had already been both snowshoeing and cross country skiing here. As part of my hike would be on forest trail and not just forest road, I chose snowshoes.
|Someone had beaten me to it. I was not the first to snowshoe the forest road.|
|Barred Owl (Strix Varia) in Connecticut. By AJ Hand 2002|
|The trail of a White-footed Mouse showing tail prints as well.|
|A closer look|
|The tale of the tracks. Old showshoe prints overlaid by new snow and then cross country skis on top. To the right is the straight track of a Red Fox.|
|Tunnels, probably shrew, Short-tailed most likely but possibly Masked? Gray Squirrel jumping through.|