Monday, April 8, 2019

One footprint in the snow

A footprint in the snow on my walk this morning, set my head abuzz. There was a story in that single print, a reminder to be concise in my own writing, to show not tell. To weave the past into the future. To build suspense.  Yes, all of that from just one print. 
The lone bear print I found in the snow

It was a fresh a print. I could tell because this was Monday and on Saturday we had received a lot of rain, which would have wiped out the print, or at the very least smudged the edges. But it was a sharp, clear print—showing no signs of having faced rain, yesterday’s melt or this morning’s bright April sun.

It was a bear print—and there my story begins.

I immediately knew three things: The resident bears had finally woken from hibernations, the bear had been heading the same direction I was—very recently, and thirdly, it was a small bear.

All bears are heavy animals but have such padded feet they seldom leave footprints. This bear had just happened to set his foot down on some soft, melting snow or his story would not have been mine to tell. 

The resident sow had bred last spring, and would have woken from the den with cubs, likely two but in the past she’d been known to have three. However, this print was too big for a spring cub, I imagined. Had a new sow and her two-year old, moved in? There is still a lot of snow on parts of my trails, so I scanned the snowy areas, looking for more prints.  Should I be concerned about a hungry, protective mother bear, fresh out of hibernation?

I could find no bigger prints, only a couple more of the same size. I began wondering about the sow. Had she not made it through the winter? I hadn’t caught her on my trail cameras since last spring when she was being wooed by several hefty males. After that, I’d only seen evidence of her black cub, which in that, its third spring, she would have chased off in order to mate again. Had she found new territory and left my neck of the woods to her cub?
The 3-year old cub caught on camera last summer

It seemed like a likely scenario. I wondered if it was a female or male cub. If it were male, I’d likely find less evidence of bears on my trails over the next few years. Males don’t have cubs around to set the cameras clicking. They are loners except during breeding season. There would be no more cubs on the cams. I wouldn’t have to be so scared of being attacked by a mother bear for inadvertently getting between her and her cubs. On the other hand, male bears can get a heck of a lot bigger than females. On the other hand, even a small bear can exert deadly force should it decide to attack, so size was perhaps irrelevant to my safety--although seeing a huge bear is scarier than seeing a bear cub.

I was thinking this as I made my way along the trails. There were no more tracks on the snowy parts of the trail, and no exposed mud yet to tell more of the story, or confirm the parts I had surmised. As I got close to the camera that oversees a favorite feeding spot for the deer and rabbits, and a travel route for coyotes, I noticed the snowy trail was all churned up.

I couldn’t make out any defined prints, though. I know my dogs like visiting this place because the coyotes usually leave ‘calling cards’, scat and urine, and the dogs like leaving their own pee-mail in return. Sometimes the neighbour’s big Mountain dog also visits and sniffs. The tracks were hard to decipher, though. Perhaps coyotes and dogs, but so many!

The camera showed there had been a coyote around, but only one.

I didn’t think the chaos was caused by deer, because deer would’ve left sharp little indents in the soft snow. Moose often churn up my trails, but they are so heavy, there’s no confusing their hoof-prints, and there weren’t any noticeable.

Then I spotted it, just one. One more bear print. That didn’t tell me what happened here, though. I mean, bears don’t churn up trails. In fact, they often put their back foot on the same place as their front foot, leaving a very narrow trail. They don’t bound about.

Rabbits might have been attracted here, as some old potato and carrot peelings I’d tossed out for the deer over the winter had melted through the snow. But rabbits tend to pack the snow down, leaving small bum-like prints.

My story had started out pretty good, I’d tied up all the loose regarding the bear. All there was to do now, was take down that trail cam and see if I’d correctly identified that one bear print to confirm my story about the resident sow giving her territory to her cub. I expected to see a small four-year old black bear on the cam.

And satisfy my curiosity about who had been partying in the snow.

Come back tomorrow to see the absolutely astounding photos regarding that soiree. 

One footprint in the snow has been brought to you by Dispassionate Lies

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