Winter is spare, but not silent. On cold, clear days, after a fresh snow, I snowshoe into the woods, then stop and listen. After the thumping noise of my heart settles, I hear other sounds. Bronze-colored beech leaves, hanging tight into winter, rustle in a gentle breeze. Red maple tree trunks rub against each other, groaning in the frigid air. The wind whispers among the tall white pines.
I sit on a fallen log to catch the low winter sun, which casts long shadows. The understory is more open now, than in summer, when plants are fully cloaked in leaves. I tune out distant sounds of civilization that carry deeper into the spare woods and through the crisp, cold air. I listen close in for wild things: the soft tapping of a downy woodpecker searching for insects tucked into bark crevices; the nasal “yank, yank, yank “ of a white-breasted nuthatch as it crawls along a tree trunk. A mixed flock of titmice and chickadees moves through. I hear the tinkling of their soft notes.
Suddenly a red squirrel scolds loudly from a nearby pine perch. It makes me realize that my feet are cold. Time to move. My steps and breathing blocks out other sounds. Instead I look about — seeing more than hearing – as I hike out of the woods. I notice tree trunks: the smooth, pale gray bark of beech, the shagginess of hickory, the thick plates on a white pine, and the reddish hue of an oak. Briefly I remove my gloves to feel the bark, to absorb the diversity of form and texture, which seems all the more remarkable in winter.
My eyes shift to the ground as I snowshoe on, back toward home. The recent snowfall left a white canvas revealing animal movements. The dainty trail of a woodland mouse emerges from a depression around a fallen tree, and back again, repeated several times. A snowshoe hare track meanders between and under young growth. Coyote trails crisscross the hare’s habitat. Gray squirrels, wild turkeys, and deer have moved through the woods too, their tracks leading here and there.
Back home I sit in front of a crackling fire in the wood stove. The wind has picked up outside. Out the window I see beech leaves still holding fast as they are tossed about in the wind like bucking broncos. While sipping my hot tea and feeling grateful for my warm abode, I wonder what wild things I would hear and see if I were still sitting on a log in the deep woods.
by Ellen Snyder, who wanders through many woodlands, including SELT conservation areas, near her home in Newmarket.
photo by Jerry Monkman