Tracks in the Snow

While on my traipse through the new snow on the upper prairie loop this morning, Mr. Roggenbuck came to mind. Fleetingly so, for in the fresh snow were the loping tracks of a coyote. It may have been the one Joe Pye chased from the farmstead just as we were headed to bed last night, although the tracks didn’t appear to have been made in a flight of fright.

Rebecca enjoys having the new snow, for the winter brown was weighing on us. Besides the freshness, a new snow can also give you a glimpse of what goes on in the blackness of night. Coyote tracks, for one. Rabbit tracks, for another. There were the telltale tracks of a single rabbit in a short portion of the trail that suddenly veered off toward the orchard. In the orchard the tracks told a different story. Here were the tracks of an obviously nervous rabbit, circling here and there, heading off toward piled buckthorn then back between the apple and pear trees. If these were the tracks of a single rabbit, it was one with a nervous and fearful heartbeat in a flight of fright.

The minimum maintenance road where the Verse bottomed out.

The minimum maintenance road where the Verse bottomed out.

Right through the midst of the haphazard circles were, once again, the loping tracks of the coyote. A single thread that cut right across the topographical map of fear. This was like many good mysteries, though written in fresh snow. In our walk around the edges of the orchard and through the winding trail of the grove, the dogs and I found no evidence of a severe ending. Nor were there tufts of bloody fur along the upper prairie loop. If Joe Pye, who has quite a nose for prairie grass clues, missed it, the ever studious and ponderous Vega was on task to back up the investigation. Good cops, both!

Which brings me back to Mr. Roggenbuck, our local collision and glass entrepreneur. En route to the upper loop we passed a spot where I had laid in the browned prairie two nights before to take a photograph of the full moon rising into the prairie sky. It was one I made safely, which I’m sure will disappoint Mr. Roggenbuck … who never misses an opportunity to suggest that he has my car on a waiting list for this coming summer. There is precedent.

Moon is peaking through the bluestem in this photo from a year ago.

Moon is peaking through the bluestem in this photo from a year ago.

Two years ago the front on my little plastic, Japanese car was destroyed by a deer. My fault was perhaps one of fate. Ten seconds either side of that exact moment when the doe decided to turn course and head back onto the highway right in front of the car coming from the opposite direction was all that was necessary. That car broadsided the deer, which careened across the country road right into the “grill” of my car. That summer I met Mr. Roggenbuck, a fine man with a stellar reputation and keen sense of humor, for the first time.

Then there was last winter, which on the night of January’s full moon, the little car met a different fate. Since Mr. Roggenbuck had every little part back in place, and even had the headlights focused properly, the Versa was running like a charm. When the moon eased up over the eastern horizon I took note, grabbed the keys and sped quickly to the end of our gravel road where off to the east sits a concise, hillside oak savanna. Ever since we moved here that savanna, which bespeaks the past of the prairie pothole biome, has caught my eye. Here was an opportunity to make a really nice photo, since the savanna is far enough away that my telephoto lens could possibly pull the moon up into one of those iconic coastal images.

Though lacking the drama of the full moon image of a year ago, this one was much less expensive!

Though lacking the drama of the full moon image of a year ago, this one was much less expensive!

One must move quickly with a rising moon, not unlike a coyote in search of a meal in the prairie. It took perhaps 90 seconds to get down the road to the savanna … however, it was not to be. The moon was nowhere to be seen. The rise was much too far to the left. Disappointed, I started back toward the house where Rebecca was in the midst of preparing a great dinner, and one I was hesitant to leave despite her assurances that she would save some for me. At the end of the section a sudden thought came about a WMA with a wonderfully rich growth of big bluestem.

Another image from the Steen WMA, with bluestem in the sunrise.

Another image from the Steen WMA, with bluestem in the sunrise.

Again, a rising moon moves fast, so when I turned I hit the gas. Steen’s WMA was a mile and a half distant, and the snow-covered road, complete with icy ruts, jostled the little car. It wasn’t long before I passed the one mile intersection. A third of a mile distant is an abandoned farm, with the grove still standing. Edging across the low-maintenance gravel road was an impressive finger drift, a peninsula of snow. Having lived here long enough to know that if I didn’t hit the drift with enough speed and muscle I would be stuck, I pushed down on the accelerator and hit the drift. The drift was solid ice and the Versa went airborne. That the car landed without rolling was both impressive and incredibly lucky, yet it crashed with such force that the entire front end was crushed. Pieces of plastic flew past the windshield as I pulled the car to a stop. Fortunately the right headlight was still headed in the right direction and the wheels appeared to aligned, so after taking a deep breath I drove on up the hill to the WMA and took a half dozen pictures.

This past summer Mr. Roggenbuck had his second chance with the car, and after I told him the story of what happened, he said, “We’ll fix ‘er up for you, and we’ll hold a spot open for you for next summer.” Since then we’ve run into one another at least a half dozen times, and he never fails to mention that he has saved me a spot.

moon image2

So getting an image in our home prairie of the rising moon was cause for a quiet and pleasing celebration … until this morning. Before I took the dogs for the walk I once again headed to Steen’s WMA to take in that luminous light of pre-dawn, and the prairie wind was creating a new drift across the one-lane country road at the exact spot. Experience is a great teacher. That drift was approached slowly and delicately, and the Versa remains in one piece.

Between the track mysteries left in the snow, this was also a sense of satisfaction as the dogs and I circled the upper loop.

This entry was posted in He Said by John G. White. Bookmark the permalink.

About John G. White

Somewhat retired after a long award-winning career in newspapers (Wisconsin State Journal, Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, Denver Post and a country weekly, the Clara City Herald). Free lance photographer and writer with credits in more than 70 magazines. Editor with various Webb Publishing magazines in St. Paul, and a five year stint as editorial director at Miller Meester Advertising.

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