Nature welcomes winter, snow

A neighbor I visited with Friday reminded me the recent snow and cold isn't all bad for the outdoorsman.

"It’s a great time for checking where the wildlife are by finding their tracks in the snow. Many people would be surprised to see how many birds and animals are closer than they might think. And, for the hunter, he can see how and where deer, rabbit and other game animals spend their winter,” he said.

More people are participating in such winter sports as old fashion sled riding, ice skating, photography, fishing and just hiking in cold and snowy weather. I remember when, after a snow, our teacher in grade school would take the class outside and check on wildlife tracks and see how many tracks the students could identify. It can be a fun outing and surprising just how many animals have traveled through the snow.

Most people, as they complain and dig with their snow shovels, forget that in the world of plants and wildlife, snow is not a nuisance, but as welcome as rain and sun. Snow is an insulator, a warm shelter and in some cases, a vital stepladder.

We have seen places where rabbits have nearly eaten themselves out of food — every small branch had been snipped off with the rabbit’s bite. However, the next snow lifted the rabbits to a higher level so they could reach another tier of food.

Birds and other wildlife have developed some devices to deal with snow. Some animals have been forced to make use of the snow’s poor conductivity of heat. Several species of birds and other small animals go under the snow, where the snow holds their body heat like a mountain of insulation. Quail flutter their wings and wedge themselves into a snow pocket.

Of course, the danger can be the crusting and the birds are iced under the snow. If the crust isn't thawed out within a day or so, they may never get out.

For the wildlife which are unspecialized for dealing with the snow, a new environment is created that they must cope with.

Deer, rabbits and squirrels beat down trails to make the traveling easier just as people shovel their walks.

To an animal with hooves, heavy snow can mean danger. Coyotes have found the hunting easier when there is a heavy snow with a light crust — strong enough bear them, but too thin to support a deer. A coyote will chase a deer off its trail and bog it down in the deep snow where the coyote can easily take the deer.

Many wildlife photographers look forward to a snow storm that will offer photo opportunities, unlike "normal" weather. The snow dramatically changes the way the world looks and invite picture taking. Bright, sunny  days invite picture taking, but many people ignore the unique and interesting possibilities for photography that "bad" weather creates.

Winter camping is "real" camping, with tents set up right out in the snow. That is the real adventure and you do not have to have the constitution of an arctic explorer to do it. Space-age materials have made it possible for the average healthy person to "car-camp" or backpack in the dead of winter comfortably and enjoyably.

With winter here, I wait for the quiet snow to fall so I can go walking in it and feel the cold on my cheeks and lips. To me, as to the birds and beasts, the snow is as much a part of this world as the night, and like the night, is lived with gently.

The recent snow reminded me of a day when I was in the U.S. Navy and stationed in Key West, Florida, visiting with then President Harry S Truman who used the warm weather for his winter White House. At the time, there was snow on the ground in Missouri while the temperature was hovering around 80 degrees in Key West. The President asked me if I wasn't glad to be in Florida. He was surprised at my answer which was, "No. If I was in Missouri, I would be hunting in the snow or sled-riding.”

His reply was, "You should be working for the Missouri Chamber of Commerce."

White, a Stockton resident, has a versatile background in the outdoors as a participant and journalist. His column appears weekly.

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