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Fresh snow in Mosier. So peaceful is the village - and so close to the wild. Photo by Lee Hollingsworth.

Fresh Snow, Fresh Tracks, and the Wilderness Close By

“What first caught my attention was the large imprint in the snow… Then I saw the blood, still a brilliant shade of red.”

There will always be something special about being that first person to venture out into freshly fallen snow, especially when that snow is in your own backyard. My new favorite pastime, though, comes in the days to follow, as the snow slowly collects evidence of the wilderness around us.

Last week, I followed the same set of deer tracks for three miles. It was the same route I’d taken numerous times before, but the addition of these tracks captured so perfectly in the snow made it seem new — almost magical. I found myself wondering, are the deer just as enthralled when they get to follow our tracks? I doubt it.

As we focus our attention on the rate of development and urbanization happening all around us, it’s easy to forget just how close we are to the “call of the wild.” Paving a place, however, does not take it outside the realm of the wilderness, and it certainly does not make it ours. I received a relatively gentle reminder of this today.

It was a little after 1 p.m. when I set off with my dog for the Twin Tunnels trail (the paved trail connecting Mosier to Hood River, formerly the original Columbia Gorge highway). It’s been a week since we had new snow, so the number of tracks was nearly overwhelming, even after mentally eliminating the onslaught of dog paws and hiking shoes. There were multitudes of deer tracks, along with a couple of others I couldn’t identify (I am a bit new at this). One of my favorites was what I assumed to be chipmunk tracks — these little tiny prints that scurry around in dizzying circles before retreating back into the trees.

I tried to imagine what the trail must look like at night, all these animals coming out to play before the humans return. Before long, I became fixated on this one set of clawed prints. They were about the size of a large dog, but trust me, this was no dog in need of a nail trimming. I’ve seen prints like this on the trail before, along with some others that could have been cougar tracks (large, rounded, no claws), but usually these prints appear on the path only briefly. Kind of the like the chipmunks’, but on a much larger scale.

These, however, were not disappearing. I decided that tomorrow I would come back with my camera to document them, along with those others I’d failed to identify. I’d do some Google searches, match the prints, mystery solved. I was so distracted with my investigating that I was almost on top of it before I noticed anything.

I felt like I’d walked into a crime scene. What first caught my attention was the large imprint in the snow, like someone — or something — had fallen down and struggled to get up. And struggled, and struggled, and struggled. Then I saw the blood, still a brilliant shade of red. That’s when I realized what I’d walked into. My defenses instinctively went up. As I turned back to check on Otis (that’s my dog), I saw the drag marks. My eyes followed them to the edge of the trail, and right to the body of what seemed to be a relatively young doe.

I didn’t look too closely. Before Otis even knew what was happening, I was heading back for home. The last thing I needed was for him to go roll around in deer carcass. As I retreated, though, it occurred to me that the doe had hardly been touched. Why would something kill it and then just leave it there? Had we interrupted something? Had my dog’s tags — or maybe my singing — scared the predator away? Could it still be watching us? I found myself looking back over my shoulder.

As I sit safe in my living room, I’m thankful for this experience. Even when you’re surrounded by designated wilderness areas, it’s easy to forget just how close that wilderness really is. Sometimes we need these gentle reminders. Bear in mind, we are lucky to live and play in this wonderful region, but it does not belong to us. If you have any doubts, just go for a hike in the snow.

For more information on living with wildlife, visit the Wildlife Division of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Hollie Lund is a resident of Mosier, Oregon. She is a Northwest native and teaches urban and regional planning at Portland State University. She recently wrote about development in Mosier.

About Hollie Lund

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