It is a winter morning. The sun is shining, the day is cool, but not too cold. We have had a dusting of snow during the night. Everything is clean and white like a fresh coat of paint. The forecast is for a high in the 30s, so time is important. Fresh snow is an opportunity to go out into the woods in search of stories. I must hurry! The sun is bright and the ground is warm. I have maybe two hours before the stories are lost. Now I am no master tracker, but for even a novice, there are things to discover in fresh snow.
The first thing I discover is where the deer crossings are and how they stop frequently to dig in the snow, probably looking for food. The next thing I discover is the path where a fox has passed through. The fox seems in no hurry. It is wandering here and there, walking not running.
I also see that the squirrels have been very busy. The footprints show where squirrels are bounding from spot to spot, stopping to dig frequently, no doubt checking the locations where they buried their nuts and acorns last fall.
I am very surprised by the number of coyote tracks I can see. The footprints indicate small groups of two or three coyotes, but the groups seem to be everywhere. One coyote that is traveling in a group of three has an injured foot. Every so often there is a spot of blood that appears in the track, always on the same foot, and there is a line dragging in the snow. I would guess that this line is the result of a coyote dragging an injured outside toe through the snow.
Next, I find a rabbit torn apart along the trail, a classic tale of predator and prey. There are wing beats in the snow, so I am guessing the predator is a great-horned owl. The rabbit is too big for a barred owl and the area is too dense for the red-tailed hawk to hunt successfully. Of course, this is only a guess.
This story, however, is not completely clear. The rabbit is torn and scattered too much for it to be the work of an owl and there are way too many rabbit tracks at the scene. Coyote tracks are also near and at least one other set of blurred tracks is present. I am guessing, and this could be a stretch, that the other player in this wildlife story is an opossum. While there are no clear opossum tracks, there are signs of what appear to be a tail dragging in kind of a swaying gait, much like an opossum.
I would read the story like this: the owl swoops in, makes the kill and eats its fill. The opossum, a scavenger, picks up the scent and finds its way to an easy meal. This is how I read the story, but like all good stories, it may have other interpretations.