Tracks in the snow

Wing prints from the red-tailed hawk

By Bruce Stambaugh

I love when snow covers the dormant winter ground. The beauty is enhanced when the blanket is refreshed with daily snowfalls the way it was earlier in the month.

Snow illuminates everything, even at night. The defused light of a waning moon can still glitter the landscape like a mirror to the stars. A glowing sunrise, a rarity in the normally dreary Ohio January sky, sparkles the morning countryside all around.

The unbroken whiteness seems to connect everything it has touched. It softens the harshest angles of any nondescript building and compliments the already lovely evergreen bows with inches of powdery beauty.

The view beckons me outside. But I hate to make tracks in the snow. I don’t want to do anything that pollutes the purity of the picture perfect scene. Suddenly, the rumbling of the snowplow shakes me from my idealistic stupor. Reality is calling.

The birdfeeders need attended to, the sidewalk and parking pad must be shoveled. Disturbing the beauty isn’t an option. The garbage can has to be wheeled to the roadside and I need to replenish my inside stack of firewood. All of these activities require me to do what I do not want to do. I have to break the virgin snow.

I bundle up much like I did when I was a kid readying to go sledding. Only these endeavors fit the chore category. Still, I get to be out in the invigorating elements.

It doesn’t take long to realize my naivety. Other creatures have been out and about well ahead of me. Bird tracks are evident at the garage door. I didn’t even hear them knock. Rabbit tracks are obvious. Even deer have visited the yard.

Still, I step respectfully, trying hard to bother as little snow as possible. On repeat trips, I retrace my previous tracks. The cottontails seemed to have the same rule.

I feel forgiven for my obsessive/compulsive behavior. Every now and then, while I am doing something mundane, I witness something extraordinary. Recently while retrieving the morning paper from its plastic delivery tube, I found a rabbit flattened on the road.

I mercifully tossed it into the snow near the low bush at the end of the driveway. Later that day, I spied a red-tailed hawk sitting on the snow beneath the bare canopy of the sunburst locust tree in the front yard. The bird flew off before I could take its picture.

Curious, I went out to see why it had been on the snowy ground instead of perched in its usual roost in the pine thicket. I couldn’t believe what I found. The hawk had pounced on the dead rabbit and repeatedly tried lifting off with it. Evidence of that deduction was a crooked path that led away from the roadside shrub where I had pitched the deceased to the locust tree.

There in the snow, on each side of the furrowed trail, was a series of periodic wing imprints. They reminded me of the snow angels we used to make as kids. I must have discovered the beautiful raptor while resting from its numerous futile efforts of trying to get the frozen bunny airborne. Instead, it dragged its catch through the snow.

A closer look revealed that the hawk had begun to tear the rabbit apart, apparently hungry enough to cancel its instinctive routine of capture, fly, perch and eat.

Next day I returned to the scene of the crime. The rabbit was gone. Spots of blood stained the snow. No other tracks of any kind were apparent. The wily bird must have returned to claim it’s prized meal.

I learned an important lesson. Tracks in the snow tell dramatic stories.

K Hertzler Art

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