Getting Out

Getting out on snowshoes to discover the slowly disappearing rain-soaked and frozen snow pack. Two big rain-on-snow events caused melting, so the snow has retreated from under trees, and streams that would be covered have opened up.

John and I went out yesterday to document rain damage and flooding to the Yakima River ski trail between Cabin Creek and Crystal Springs. We followed the tracks of an animal who has also been using the trail. River otter, John thought. Since the animal had sunk down into the snow when it was soft, where was the mark left by its long tail? No evidence. We looked for webbing between the toes, but the tracks had frozen and were not clear enough.

One of the field guides I use (Animal Tracks of Washington and Oregon by Ian Sheldon) says that fisher prints are similar, and wouldn’t show the tail drag. Possible, I suppose. The trail goes through the forest above the river. How would an otter have gotten up the steep slope? Maybe it was a fisher, bounding along looking for unwary squirrels or porcupines. I will never know, but it’s fun to speculate.

The thing that has me really scratching my head is that the trail is within sight and sound of Interstate 90. Above the woods, on a dike built of rock, concrete and asphalt is the major east-west route across the Cascades. It is heavily-used, especially during the day. It’s loud with the sound of semi truck tires and the vibration of traffic. The sound grates on me, detracts from my awareness of the silver firs and hemlocks. How do the animals perceive this racket and thunder? Is it just a part of the world that they know about? Do they understand that if they went up there and tried to cross they’d never come back?

That’s another thing I will never know.

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