Monday, March 04, 2013

Tracks and Blood in the Snow

I follow the coyotes and they follow me.

One day I was cross-country skiing through Somme near twilight and noticed a coyote pacing me to my right – watching with the oddest look. I stopped to watch back, kind of giggling inside. I must have seemed bizzarro to “God’s dog.” As I stood and smiled, the animal made a 360o circle around me, at a respectful distance, and then went on its way.

For my adventure today, March 2, 2013, I follow the paw-prints of coyotes that mostly walk but sometimes bound all the way from the Middle Fork of the North Branch across the entire width of Somme Woods, cross Waukegan Road, and traverse the entire savanna of Somme Prairie Grove before disappearing into Somme Prairie.

What do I discover? God’s dogs were eating venison, probably from animals struck by vehicles before limping off into the woods; coyotes are too small to prey on adult deer.

Near the Middle Fork I find two hoofed legs attached by a scrap of tawny pelt, then a raw skull and spinal column. Fifty yards away is a larger and essentially fleshless pelt they’d been dragging around.

Tracks take me to check out fallen trees, into thickets, along streambanks. In mid preserve I stop for the pleasure of sandhill cranes – 16 of them circling and trumpeting overhead on their migration north. Whatever will they find to eat in all this snow and ice? But the smart ones want to be the first to claim the best nursery grounds for this year’s colts.
Crane flying low over Somme Prairie Grove in 2010. Photo by Lisa Culp.

In the Woods I follow just one set of tracks, but in Prairie Grove a pair travelled together all the way across. At one point they passed within a few feet of an obvious rabbit hole, but they didn’t even stop to sniff. They’ve probably checked this secure burrow often enough to get bored with it. Only rabbit tracks in this photo:

At one point they both stop and pee on the same goldenrod stalk. The mind of the dog is opaque to me when it comes to smells. They have their reasons.  

On a knoll near the railroad is a great multitude of coyote prints and another deer in the early stages of disassembly. Clearly they knew where it was; they’d been heading straight for it as they crossed the savanna. Eating that much food should take many days. But it’s winter. Venison will stay fresh for them.

Some people think nature is perfect and beautiful. It is more than that. I am of the coyote's world and not of their world. Paw-prints continue west beyond the carcass, past the railroad, and into Somme Prairie, but I’m done. My awkward boots and cramped feet have had enough of deep and crusty snow.

As I exit across Dundee, paw-prints here suggest that three coyotes jointly explored the thickets that line the road. They’re dense – as a barrier to vehicles and the madding sights and sounds of so-called civilization. One of God’s dogs crossed the road and travelled for a while through people’s yards. That’s where I headed too.


Steve Halm said...

What a great adventure you've shared! Thanks.

E Wenscott said...

Wow, great documentation! One of the great gifts of a snow covered ground is that you can more easily read the story of the wild things. Thank for sharing! E