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.
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.