COLUMNISTS

Tracks in the snow are nature’s history lessons

Jerry Apps
Tracks in the snow.

“Just tracks in the snow,” the person said when glancing at this photo. For some people that’s all they are. Merely tracks. But to my dad, tracks in the snow were much more. They were nature lessons.

By the time I was able to walk and wallow along in the snow, I would tag along when Pa went for a winter walk. When we’d see a track in the snow, he’d say, “Look close. That’s a cottontail rabbit track. Or that’s a fox track, or a squirrel track, or maybe a tiny field mouse track. Or maybe a huge jack rabbit track—jack rabbits were commonly seen at the farm back in the 1930s and 40s. But that’s not all Pa wanted me to see and learn. Not only did he want me to identify what kind of critter made the track, but he wanted me to figure out what they were doing when they made the track.

“See this squirrel track,” he would say.

“See what the squirrel was doing, where it was going. We’d follow the track and see where the squirrel did some digging in the snow. “Looking for something to eat,” Pa would say. “Looking for some acorns it buried last fall.”

We might follow a rabbit track, and then see some strange looking marking alongside the track and then see the rabbit track no more. “Hawk got the rabbit and flew off with it,” Pa would say.

Or we might follow a fox track for a bit and see where the fox dug in the snow, looking for something to eat. Maybe a field mouse.

Tracks in the snow are nature’s history lessons, who was doing what, and how. Lessons that I never forgot.

THE OLD TIMER SAYS: So much to learn from an animal track in the snow.

Jerry Apps

Jerry Apps, born and raised on a Wisconsin farm, is Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the author of more than 35 books, many of them on rural history and country life. For further information about Jerry's writing and TV work, go to www.jerryapps.com.