The oldest writing

We went snowshoeing on a frozen river today, and found an abundance of animal tracks to follow and wonder about, which I photographed with my phone’s camera. Most of the tracks were from deer, coyotes or wolves, and smaller mammals, their tracks often disappearing under a layer of ice at the shoreline. It was a beautiful sunny day, but also one of the coldest days of the winter, with a high of -17 C and a low of -23 C.

The fresh tracks in the photo above were a mystery to us, but became less so as we followed them through the woods. Because it snowed this morning, we knew the animal had passed through recently, but couldn’t see a clear outline of the print. We followed them into the woods where they resembled human foot prints.

Note the length of the animal's stride in comparison to a snowshoe

Once in the forest, we discovered that the prints suddenly ended right in front of us, on the other side of a snow covered mound of earth. At this point, we decided to head back for the river rather quickly, so there are no photos of this mound or den! But I think we may have been following a bear that had just left it’s den and not yet returned.

“Never forget the trail, look ever for the track in the snow; it is the priceless, unimpeachable record of the creature’s life and thought, in the oldest writing known on earth.”
-Ernest Thompson Seton

Far less mysterious tracks in the snow.

12 Responses to “The oldest writing”
  1. sandy says:

    I like those snowshoes. A long time ago, I had some like that. I would love to still be using them, but arthritis has ended that. Stupidly, I gave them away. They should be hanging on my wall.

    Yes, I think you are right about the tracks. I just did an image search for bear tracks. I guess you know now, how fast you can move on snowshoes!
    This was a great post.

  2. That’s too bad about your snowshoes, the wooden ones are so beautiful, but the new ones are much lighter (I just got a pair). The ones in this post used to be my father’s, and the rest of my family had snowshoes with the bearpaw pattern. I’m glad you think they are bear tracks, too. Yep, we can move pretty fast!

  3. I love your snowshoes. I always wondered how the old school type worked. Just got a new pair this Christmas and they are leading me into new winter adventures like yours. I am loving them! Happy hiking!

  4. Interesting and memorable story! I’m glad Mr. Bear was not home when you arrived! The photos are beautiful, even though you were using your camera phone. And I love the profound message of the quote.

  5. montucky says:

    I also love reading the stories written in the snow. Wish we had that much snow now: in the valleys here it has all melted.

  6. Barbara says:

    Wow, that’s COLD!!! It’s been almost that cold here the past couple of days – you must be pretty hearty and well bundled to take a walk in those temperatures! I’m glad you didn’t meet up with the bear. Do they come out occasionally in the winter when they’re hibernating?

    The picture of the grass sticking out of the snow is beautiful… And the snowshoes framed by the trees is playful. Maybe I’d walk more in the winter if I had some snowshoes!

    That’s a thought-provoking quote, too… Keep warm, Cait!

  7. donald says:

    been finding lots of track around my cabin, deer, moose and lots of little creatures. one of my neighbors thinks he saw bob cat tracks, which is likely, as i have seen one dart across the road in front of me nearby recently.

    my old snowshoes like yours are hanging on the wall, more decoration than function anymore.

    was well below zero here in maine too, but not quite as cold as you. stay warm!!

  8. Jessie: That’s wonderful you’ve been out snowshoeing this winter, I’ve got to catch up on your adventures. It sure looks like you’ve gotten the perfect winter for it at your ranch. Happy hiking to you, too!

    Karen: Yes, I’m glad the bear wasn’t home either! Maybe it was keeping an eye on us from some higher vantage point. Only the first three photos were taken with the camera phone yesterday, but I do like how the photos from it turned out.

    montucky: I hope your snow returns soon, but good that you can always find it up a mountain! You must have so many interesting stories to read in the snow there.

    Barbara: Thanks and I hope you get to try some snowshoes! From what I’ve read, it seems bears do come out of their dens occasionally through the winter until it stays really cold. I’ve never seen one in winter – yet!

    donald: Wow, lots of interesting tracks around your cabin, I’d love to see the bobcat. I’m sure your snowshoes look grand against the log walls. You stay warm too!

  9. What a beautiful script, Cait. I agree wholeheartedly about tracks being a language to read, a way into other lives, to briefly partake of another world that lives side by side with our own. In this season snow is a vast book.

    The bear tracks are a deep mystery. I can only use my experiences here with the brown bear (and I suppose you’re talking about the black bear) and the evidence of the photos, but I would have expected the tracks to look different. Because of the size of a bear and the distance, or width, between its left and right legs, the tracks I’ve followed have a large straddle. The photos show a trail that is a straight line rather than essentially two trails, the left feet and the right feet. If you imagine walking across the snow while on your hands and knees you get an idea of how a bear’s gait would generally look! Because of this a bear’s stride (though I’ve never followed a grizzly you understand!) isn’t usually so large. I wonder if it might be a smaller creature that is bounding in order to move more easily through the deep snow; if so, its four paws would typically come to rest in roughly the same place before it leaps on again, and the snow is deepened and scattered in such a way that this can often resemble a single large print. However, I’m the first to say that the mysteries of the natural world are a part of its wonder and you could be perfectly right! What is fascinating is trying to decode the language! Gorgeous photo of the reeds against the snow, by the way…


  10. I agree with you Julian, it really doesn’t make sense that they are bear tracks given what you’ve said, and I appreciate you sharing your experience on this (yes, I was referring to a black bear). I hope to get back to that river this weekend and see if I can find more clues. Thanks for your kind comment! The mystery continues…

  11. Wonderful post! Really love that quote about “the oldest writing”. When we’re in the Kalahari desert we look for tracks in the sand, to see what animals have past through the camp. For don’t follow them though – especially not the big ones! 🙂

  12. Thanks Lisa! “Don’t follow the big ones” – words of wisdom 🙂

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