Snow forest

snow on witch hazel

I set out this morning before the snow stopped, eager to take full advantage of the silence that settles over the land when a major winter storm falls on the weekend. This was the first I’d worn snowshoes in a couple of years, and I began with enthusiasm, despite the fact that I sank in nearly a foot with every step. Progress was slow. My own breath moved more quickly than I did, and I was soon almost out of it.

I’d almost forgotten what a deep, dry snow was like. From time to time my footsteps set off shockwaves, quiet little booms accompanied by a sudden settling of all the snow within a few yards’ radius. Sometimes this was enough to shake the snow loose from a nearby laurel bush, the waxy green leaves springing up and throwing off their white straitjackets. Before long my calves were aching, and my glasses kept steaming up and then freezing. I finally took them off and put them in my pocket, and did most of the rest of the hike half-blind: up to the top of the watershed, through the spruce grove and out to the Far Field, alone with the sound of my exertion.

Or nearly alone. The downy woodpeckers were out and about, and a pair of cardinals foraged in one thicket. On the ridgetop not far from its den tree I crossed a porcupine trail — an almost-tunnel through the snow — and wondered whether it had been going out or returning home. Twenty minutes later, on the lower trail back from the Far Field, I had my answer.

porcupine in a blizzard

This was shot hurriedly in dim light through a zoom lens, and then magnified further through digital zooming. But I really only took the picture to make sure of what I was looking at, especially with my glasses so fogged up. Had it not been for the location on a thin branch, I might’ve dismissed it as an unusually messy squirrel’s nest. It sat motionless with its head tucked against its belly as the snow sifted in through its forest of quills.

33 Comments


  1. Lovely! And wow, what a lot of snow some of you eastern US folks have received according to the news! Enjoy and keep warm and safe. Meanwhile we were out gardening this afternoon….

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    1. Gardening in February? How decadent!

      We only got about 16 inches here — it seemed like more. But other places nearby got ten inches more than that.

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  2. I’m reminded that a quick eye and response are requirements for not just the street photographer! Great shot.

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    1. Thanks. Of course, an umbrella is best for keeping precipitation off the lens, but who carries an umbrella in a snowstorm?

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  3. Strange about getting older, that we can “see” better with a camera, like the cyborgs in “City of Lost Children”. And hard not to anthropomorphize about the porcupine with its quills failing to repel the silent attack. I’m going to link to this post tomorrow, since I’m doing some links on the theme of the Unexpected.

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    1. Hey, thanks. I try not to anthropomorphize, but by the same token I strive to see other animals as equals. And in the case of the porcupine, it happens to be one of my totem animals. :)

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  4. Wow. What wonderful pictures. I wonder what the top one would look like in black and white? do you think it would add or subtract (or leave as summed) the total effect?

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    1. I tried it that way, and didn’t think it was nearly as effective. The subtle colors of winter are essential to me.

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  5. That porcupine shot is simply magnificent Dave. I’m in awe. It looks like such a perilously slender branch to be curled up on if you’re a four legged mammal rather than a perching bird.

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    1. Glad you liked that. Porcupines often seem exceedlingly unlikely tree-dwellers, slow and clumsy as they are — like a bear on a unicycle, it doesn’t look right. Check out the porcupine in this post, for example: Hemlock for lunch.

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  6. I’m glad you’re enjoying it… deep “DRY” snow?

    You guys lucked out. Nothing but thick wet stuff down here. My snow plow is useless and it’s just been back breaking moving this stuff.

    We still don’t have power and the family’s camped out at a neighbor’s place. It’s been a tough 2 days.

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    1. Oh geez, I didn’t know you guys lost power! Wet snow will do that. Here, the stuff’s so dry and cold, it squeaks under one’s boots.

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  7. gorgeous post! what a magical find, and a lyrical sharing of the experience..

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  8. Wow! Your alter-ego held still for you, that’s a great shot! I love the top photo too, and almost envy you the deep snow and the hike.

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    1. Whaddyamean, “almost”? Generally when someone moves from Vermont to Montreal, I tend to assume they have a “mind of winter”!

      Mom said the porcupine was still in the same spot 24 hours later. That’s another thing I have in common with porcupines, besides the big teeth, prickliness and fondness for trees: the tendency towards inertia.

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  9. The porcupine photo is great! Looks so cold, though. The frozen water around the trees and my glasses would have been foggy too. Thanks for the view.

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    1. I don’t know how much porcupines experience the cold. The North American porcupine is a very hardy species, and they have a thick layer of fat.

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  10. Beautiful images both. Love the 2nd especially, such detail. Do they actually sleep in trees? I’d always imagined a burrow.

    Here via Art sparkers site.

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    1. Hi. Hollow trees are favored den spots, but so are cave-like spaces under boulders or houses. I had a porcupine resident in the crawl-space under my house until last spring.

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  11. These are some of the most beautiful photos I’ve ever seen. I love the stories in those glyphs. And the poignant contrast between your glasses removal and the sharp eye of the camera. thanks.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by. I’m glad you liked the photos.

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  12. What a delight. it always cheers me up when I see unexpected wildlife. A fox crossing a field, or a deer… We don’t have porcupines here but I did have a guest hedgehog for a while before it decided that other gardens had more to offer. So shy :)

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    1. Hedgehogs are shy? A little surprising considering how well-armed they are. But porcupines do tend to retreat, also — at a fast waddle.

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  13. Great photo. If they’re anything like UK hedgehogs (the nearest thing we have to porcupines), they’ll be incredibly agile, a lot more so than they look. Hedgehogs look like lumbering creatures but can whizz up and down all over the place (eg over drystone walls) – although I’ve never seen one climb a tree.

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    1. Well, I don’t think they’re at all related, other than the fact that they’re both mammals, but there is a certain convergent evolution at work, no doubt. Old-world porcupines don’t climb trees either; that’s just a New World thing. Some of the South American porcupines even have prehensile tails.

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  14. Reaching the words “downy woodpecker” just two lines above the photo, I at first thought that was what the picture would be… the porc’s curled into just a ball, of deceptively fluffy-looking fur!

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  15. PS: Down in VA, we got pretty well clobbered over the last week or or so, but it’s already melting back from the edges of things.

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    1. Yeah, not much melthing here yet… but apparently that’s going to start this weekend. We got another three inches of dry snow yesterday.

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