Our younger German wirehair, Maggie, is game to go. She loves winter and rolls in the snow daily. Colby, our older girl, will pretend to want to go, but after I leave she’ll curl up quite content beside the wood stove to dream of summer.
From the house, Maggie and I head down into the softwoods, snow squeaking with every step and our breath in a cloud. She bounds through the snow with enthusiasm. In the shelter of the spruce and fir trees the snow is hard, crunching beneath the snowshoes despite the dusting of fluff on the top. Maggie can easily dash about atop the snow, following the confusion of snowshoe rabbit tracks.
Deer have passed through, punching deep imprints in the hard snow. The coyotes barely made tracks, but traveling on top with such an advantage over the deer.
Our favorite brook trout stream is silent, capped over with ice and snow. It is hard to imagine trout fishing and I wondered where the brook trout went for the winter. Surely they are not in the same riffles as they were in July, but probably in the deep dark holes where the current is slow or nonexistent.
We follow downstream. Maggie shows no interest on going out on the ice, which is what I had hoped. I like smart cautious dogs. They seldom get porcupined or skunked more than once.
Snowshoes on crusty snow drown out any other sound. Mice tracks, squirrel tracks, rabbit tracks, all create a puzzle. Fat well-spaced trunks of conifers cover the plateau along the stream, making travel easy.
We pass where the coyotes killed a deer the previous winter. Maggie sniffs about and I wonder if there could still be scent after so much time. Dogs amaze me with their noses and nothing seems impossible. She squats to urinate, to say to the coyotes “Hey, I was here”.
Leaning alders, bent by the snow, block the path and I crouch to walk under them. A busted fir tree, broken by an early winter wind, demands a detour. Another fallen fir, this one uprooted, reaches out halfway across the stream. Eventually the stream pinches against a steep ledge to cut off our course, so we turn back and inland to follow the edge where the softwood trees of the lowlands meet the hardwoods of the hill.
The snow is deeper, but Maggie still flies about, first up the hill then down into a thicket beneath a cluster of firs. She points, relocates, points again, and then zips off to hunt still more.
Grouse tracks cover the snow where she stopped. I stare up into the trees, hoping to glimpse one, but see none. I did not bring a shotgun. With the extreme weather I really don’t feel like bother them and seeing the tracks is enough for me.
Heading uphill and back toward home, another shattered fir tree blocks the path. I trudge around it beneath three big softwoods. Ahead of me, Maggie again points for a moment before charging onward. Grouse tracks go every-which-way where she stopped. The bird never wandered far, but created a tangle of tracks beneath a cluster of young maples, all in an area the size of a large dining table.
I search among the tree limbs, but again find only empty branches. Hopefully the bird is sitting somewhere safe with its belly full. We are close enough to the house, so, if this one is a male, we will sit on the deck and hear his drumming in the spring.
A late day chill reminds us it is late. The low winter sun has slipped behind the hills early and the sky has dissolved from blue to the color of steel. Up the hill we find a skid road that takes us around the bottom edge of another softwood stand. Water runs beneath the snow, creating a murmur that is almost impossible to hear. In the summer mud would be everywhere, but a pristine white blankets everything. The deep snow makes breaking trail work, but Maggie still bounds about. Eventually, the road leads to the far end of the field behind our home and I can see smoke wafting up from the chimney.
There is no place I would rather see or be.