Shadows, Ground Hogs, Late Season Snow, & Magic Tracks
February 19, 2023
A kindergarten teacher I know shared this story with me. On Ground Hog’s Day they took the students outside to see if they could see their shadow or not. One little boy in particular was especially happy that it was cloudy and they did not see their shadows. A few days later we had just a little snow in the morning. That same little boy looked out the window and noticed snowflakes falling. He tipped his head back and with tears streaming down his cheeks he wailed, “But you promised it was spring!” Little hearts are so easily broken.
I think that Ground Hog’s Day is one of the silliest ideas that people have ever come up with. The fact is that here in Wisconsin anyway, no ground hog, self-respecting or clandestine is going to come out of his den on the second of February. Ground hogs eat grass. Even in an exceptionally early spring in these parts there isn’t any green grass to munch. Now in late March perhaps they may be coaxed out of their dens with a stretch of fine weather in order to dig down to find some roots that are beginning to grow. But with nothing about to eat, our ground hogs will continue to hibernate for several more weeks.
The likelihood of an early spring though seemed to be quite real as above-freezing temps and some warming sunshine had melted off almost all of our snow cover in recent days. All that remained was some icy drifts in road ditches and along fencerows.
Yesterday the thermometer dipped down to a more seasonal level, the clouds gathered and a light snow began to fall. I thought of our young friend and how he was holding up as the bare ground began to be hidden once more beneath the pure white of fresh snow. I myself am well beyond kindergarten and aged into one who is more practical about what can’t be controlled (and truth be told I prefer my winter days white) – I included the parenthesis to warn you to speak those words in a hushed tone or eliminate them altogether should you or anyone in your household take offense at such a thought.
This morning I went out when Venus was still bright and above the horizon to shovel the drive and to see what night stories the snow had to tell me. Down towards the bottom of the drive I noticed one set of quite unusual tracks. It wasn’t the creature who left them behind that was unusual; that was a cottontail rabbit. There are enough of those around here to feed the foxes, coyotes, owls and hawks and still leave plenty to gnaw my shrubs nearly to the ground. It was the way the tracks were formed that was unusual. It was plain that this rabbit had dashed from south to north across the drive. He probably felt the risk of being so out in the open and being so visible because his tracks were a good two feet apart. Tracks typically left behind go down into the snow. This rabbit must have made his break for it when it was still snowing. It was one of those powder fluff snows, so it had settled in the rabbit’s tracks and filled them back in, and then added just a quarter inch or so of snow on top. The strange effect was that the tracks actually puffed up from the surface of the snow – the exact opposite of a typical track. I can’t recall ever noticing a track like these before. I would like to have shown them to our young friend. Perhaps this rabbit has previously worked with a magician! (That’s as doubtful as a wood chuck in February, shadow or not).