The sun has set to work on the snow. At first, seeing the snow in the bright sun this early morning by the still-frozen Red River is deceiving.
As you look at the fields of white snow all about you, they seem to be the same as a week ago. They are not.
A week ago you could sink up to your thighs in some of the snow. And if you were intrepid enough to take such a trek across such a snowfield and them attempt to walk back in your own tracks, you had a challenge.
If you stepped off your old track, you could take a fall sideways into the soft snow You’d flounder around somewhat helplessly, especially if you were trying to carry something in your arms.
By today that hot sun has formed a hard crust on top of the fields of snow. It offers a welcome surface for travel.
Squirrels romp across it gaily. Turkeys walk on top of these snow fields easily. Even I walk on top of much of this snow; not totally, but remarkably.
The effect reminds me of the old legend of the contest between the Sun and the North Wind. Out of respect for all of you who remember the legend, I won’t bore you by narrating the story but only remark on how it reminds us of the seemingly-benign sun.
Four white-tailed deer bound into view. They are not so fortunate at walking on snow crusts but they get along fine.
I notice some stripped bark on a very thin branch of white cedar, a branch at about head height for me. I had seen this before and had lightly checked it off in my mind as some malady in the tree.
However it occurs to me today that I well may be looking at the result of browsing. There is nothing unhealthy about the cedar tree or the branch.
A deer could stand in the snow and easily reach up this high and browse when food is scarce elsewhere. I hadn’t thought of cedar for browse for deer, but perhaps the expert would tell me this is common knowledge.
A few weeks ago the family watched a cottontail rabbit stand up on its hind legs and brows off the lower branches of a white cedar. In this winter of big snow, food is scarce for woodland creatures. Such antics and acrobatics as this cottontail performed for us is understandable. But it also highlights the idea that there is something tasty in the white cedar that creatures like.
As I walked in the woods this morning, following some wild turkeys (that seemed to tolerate me somewhat), I paused and noticed a hole bored in the old scar of a broken-off branch of a white cedar, a scar just at eye level. It was beautifully bored, perhaps two inches in diameter. Curious to know its depth, I measured with a long, thin twig. To my surprise, it was 16 inches deep. It was as if it were just made for me to discover one winter day, years later, as I paused in the woods.
James Alger, who lives in Fargo, N.D., has been a summer resident of the Leech Lake area with his family for over 45 years. Over that time he has grown to love and appreciate the people and the woodlands of this area.