It is, officially, mud season. They announced at breakfast that we should avoid hiking or riding (the horses, I mean) in the woods for a few weeks, until things dry out, because traffic can churn up the trails. Fortunately, the landscaping crew is an exception; we're still on invasive exotic patrol, and we stay off the trail and spread out, so we don't put a lot of footprints in any one place.
I've noticed, off-campus, that unpaved driveways and dirt roads are all looking a bit rough. This happens every year, and I'm from the area, so I'm used to it. But there isn't a problem on campus. Our roads are graveled, but I'm sure that anyone driving over them would churn up the gravel and bury it in the muck. Then we'd never see the gravel again. That doesn't happen because hardly anybody ever drives here. People come and go on bikes and move things around campus by horse...and not that often, either. I didn't really think about this last year, but there are all these problems in the outside world that have such simple solutions.
Anyway, the snow is gone now, except for piles along the sides of the main road where the plows piled things up. On campus, of course, we don't plow, but there are a few little piles left where we shoveled walkways. And, of course, there's still a few patches of old ice on the roads. It gets compacted there, so it takes a while to melt. But the sheets of snow are all gone, the birds are singing (and I'm counting them and yes, twice I've been challenged by Charlie's spies, but I met the challenge both times) and it's mostly warm out. Relatively speaking. At night and in the early mornings we still run the stoves.
And the thing about the snow being gone is I can't go tracking in it. Rick doesn't need snow to go tracking, of course, so I wasn't surprised when he suggested we go out again (we're another exception to not going in the woods), but I was kind of confused. And I'm not the only one; I've been reading books on tracking, looking up websites, and a lot of other people assume you need snow to track, too. But not everybody does.
So, we went out, tracking.
It's not all that different from going in the snow, in some ways. You can find footprints in wet ground, which, of course, there is a lot of, and some signs, like feeding sign or droppings, had nothing to do with snow and they are still here.
But in other ways it is very different. In snow, you follow the trail. I lost the trail occasionally, and some trails, like those of birds or squirrels, are short, but mostly it's like following a story that just goes on and on. But there's no following a trail without snow, not for me, anyway. Not yet. Rick can do it. Instead there's just a track, or several tracks, in mud or something. Or there's a cache of nuts, a midden pile, or some scat...you get snapshots, no whole.
Or, rather, you get snapshots, no whole, about what the animal is doing, but you do get a whole view of something wider, larger. You see how species use different places, what sorts of habits they have, what species are present
And it means that the questions you ask are different, because the questions you can answer are different. Instead of trying to find out where the animal went next and what it did, the whole story, you ask what species use this area? How do they use it and how often do they use it? What does this place, where you find this isolated track or scat or whatever else, mean to them? Instead of the personal, narrative view, what one animal was doing with its time, you get something larger, more complex, more anonymous. You see the trail, not the track, the species and the ecosystem, not the individual.
Rick, as I said, can follow a track without snow. Not always, but he can usually do that. I told him that I want to learn, and he said he would teach me, but that I should get good at doing what I can do, first. As he says, the ecological view is useful, and of course it's there in the winter, too. It's just that I get distracted following individuals. So one can follow individuals or get the larger picture any time of year, it's just which view is more obvious at which time.
There's knowledge and skill, and then there's perspective and awareness. The longer I'm here, the more I see it; in subject after subject, learning answers is less important than learning how to ask new questions.
[Next post: Monday, April 7th: Passover]