Wishing a Happy New Year to you all. Thanks for reading in 2013. Stay tuned as I write and draw into 2014!
Snowshoe Hare Tracks, watercolor, gouache and graphite. Copyright 2013, Debra Davis
Yesterday’s fieldwork observation dominated by snowshoe hare tracks in the fresh snowfall. This is a trail we have been working on over the past few weeks, and there are always hare tracks, but yesterday they seemed especially exuberant. Slow hopping, zooming, abrupt changes of direction. Tracks everywhere.
I turn again and again to the Peterson Field Guide to Animal Tracks written and illustrated by the great 20th century American mammalogist Olaus J. Murie. That’s his drawing of a snowshoe hare above, with my sketch of the track pattern below. I can lose myself in Murie’s wonderful pen and ink sketches and brief stories of animal behavior. It’s a book for sitting with, turning page after page.
The term “mad as a March hare” goes back to at least the 1500s, and refers to the jumping, chasing, and boxing of European hares in springtime when breeding season comes upon them. I don’t know if that’s what the snowshoe hares are up to, but they are getting out and running around more. And who wouldn’t be, with the strengthening sun?
I came home from work today and sat in the sun by the open back door. Can’t remember the last time I sat outside for the pleasure of it. Open windows, bird trills, busyness around the beehive, decreasing patches of snow in the yard…
Today’s ski outing was up the Howson Creek Road. It was around 18 degrees, and the last of the day’s sunlight was headed toward the mountaintops; first golden, then pink. It was too cold to not be moving, so I broke trail. There were so many snowshoe hare tracks! I don’t think I have ever seen so many in one small area. It was a hare highway, weaving in and out of tree wells, back and forth across the road, through the brush. I watched for signs of their browsing, but didn’t see any nibble marks. How the animals move is evident in their trails. Launch off the strong hind legs, small front paws touch down, then the big hind paws, and do it again. It looked as if there may have been some exuberant leaping too. (Interesting to me how the camera insists on seeing snow as so blue…)
I have only seen hares in winter a few times. In the summer they are brown, and can be seen dashing across roads. But in winter, they stay white and hidden, where they can conserve heat and energy. Once while snowshoeing, I stepped over a log and saw a perfectly still hare snugged up against the side of the dead tree. Its eyes and the tips of its ears were dark, and it did not move. I know it saw me, so I kept going.
Today I saw no hares, only tracks. When my fingers were so cold I didn’t think they would ever warm up, I turned back. As I watched, the last bit of pink light faded gently to lavender and the earth turns away from the sun till tomorrow.