Thursday, December 15, 2011

Not a creature was stirring

Out for an afternoon walk yesterday, I marveled at the intensity of the silence and apparent inactivity in the animal world. We are less than a week away from the winter solstice, the shortest and darkest day of the year. The solstice occurs because the tilt of the earth on its axis causes the northern and southern hemispheres to receive varying intensities and exposure to the sun over the course of a year. While we experience our darkest day, the southern hemisphere experiences their longest day. The opposite occurs in June when we celebrate the summer solstice.

This is the time of year when many animals have migrated south or burrowed underground to hibernate. But if you tune into the world with your eyes, signs of life appear around every corner. Even though I didn't see any animals (other than one flock of noisy geese overhead), I knew it hadn't been long since they'd been here. Where mud had dried on the trail, I saw the split-hoofed track of an ungulate. Size and location led me to believe it belonged to a white-tail deer.

Further along I spotted the "C" shaped gait of a wild canine running on the frozen pond. The presence of four toes and an overall oval shape to the print hinted that the tracks were those of a red fox. They are year-round residents; We often see them in winter when they are far easier to spot against a barren snowy backdrop than in the summer when the grasses are tall and lush.

Even the animals that have departed or hibernated leave signs of their presence from the summer months. Old tent caterpillar nests are visible in several trees, especially the choke cherry bushes that they favor. Bird nests of various sizes and shapes can be spotted in tree branches, far more visible now than when the leaves protect them and the baby birds in the spring.

They are reminders of the cycles of life and the seasons. As we circle around the sun, so too do we circle through birth, life, and death, continuously and endlessly through the years. At the darkest day of the year, we celebrate the cycles and revel in the knowledge that the light and life will return once more.

Posted by Heather Ristow, Education Director

1 comment:

  1. Enjoyed reading about your Montana near-solstice time!