I went for a snowshoe hike last week through the Sugarbush. It's lovely up there. There were plenty of animal tracks, including the deer who like to use the ski trails as their own personal highways.
Not that they don't have their very own highways -- because they do. Deer, like mice and rabbits and -- yes -- people, tend to follow the same trails over and over. These are called "Runs", and when you find one, if you are patient, and wait, sooner or later you'll find someone sauntering along the road. This deer Run leads off our ski trail, down into the deep dark hemlock woods and the very secret places the deer spend their winter nights.
There was lots of woodpecker work in evidence as well -- this storm blow-down hemlock is a current work-site. Again, if you wait, and are hidden and patient, the big pileated woodpecker is going to be returning to this tree.
This one was right at the edge of the trail, so easy to examine. These big birds take out enormous chunks of wood when they are hammering into the trees searching out insects.
Also right at the edge of the trail was this beech tree showing the claw marks of a climbing bear. Beech trees are wonderful -- not only do they have tasty beech nuts (a favourite of deer, squirrels and bears, not to mention people -- go pick up some Beechnut flavoured cough drops, and you'll find out why) but their smooth bark retains the tree's story. Anything that marks this bark gets incorporated into the trunk, and remains, a written history of what's gone on in the tree's life. While deer are content to dig around near the tree roots waiting for beech nuts to fall, bear and squirrels are less patient, and they'll climb up after the tasty treats. Every time a bear climbs a beech tree, the claw marks become a permanent record.
While the bear are all hibernating this time of year, this is proof that there are bears in the woods.
Beech trees are also interesting, because while the big trees drop their leaves in the fall, the smaller trees, protected from the wind by the forest canopy, will hold onto theirs all winter long. These leaves, dry, fragile and paperlike, are a old-time favourite of the folks who had to winter in the woods. They're a good fire-starter, for example, since they'll burn like paper. And they're good for other uses for which the pioneers didn't have much paper, or Sears Catologues, with them in their backpacks!
The leaves also add an interesting counterpoint of pastel colour to the winter landscape, making them a favourite of artists as well.