Owl snow angels can appear at the end of a line of paw prints. But more often I see them without context, on an otherwise unblemished blanket of white. The narrative is implied: one day, a small creature was living its life in the subnivean zone when it squeaked, or rustled, or simply beat its heart too loudly, then met eternity.
The marks are created in three acts. There’s the moment when the talons punch down; then the long, shallow slide of the body; and last, the downward stroke of wings. The impressions left behind can be rough as gash-tracks left by bounding deer, but they can also be much finer. I remember encountering one owl angel that was so perfectly formed I could count the flight feathers.
In winter, more than any other season, a walk in the woods feels like a treasure hunt. To encounter the place where an owl touched down is an uncommon privilege, but there are other sights that can be just as magical for all that they’re mundane. A grouse erupts from the snow. Bright-yellow witch’s butter fungicicles sparkle in the trees. A bird’s nest is revealed and tracks beckon as clouds of snow whomp down on you from hemlocks. At some point, elation creeps in. You start grinning like a fool, thinking: I get to be here? How outrageously lucky am I?
The winter issue of Northern Woodlands magazine is traditionally where we give thanks to all the individuals and organizations who have supported our nonprofit’s educational work throughout the year. But before I get to that, I’d like to shake things up a bit and first acknowledge on behalf of all of us how fortunate we are to share this rugged wonderland of granite, wildlife, and trees.
We’re lucky, too, for people – because this region’s forests wouldn’t be as rich without the people who work in them and play in them and put so much of their hearts into stewardship for future generations. An acquaintance recently wrote a note to me with a line that I like so much I’ve taped it to my office wall: “people are a part of nature, and every time we forget that, we get in trouble.”
So I’m feeling grateful. For owls. For people. And, of course, for everyone reading this who has contributed in some way to our nonprofit’s success this year. Special thanks to our donors and our advertisers, all of our subscribers, our board of directors, and the innumerable writers, artists, foresters, scientists, and others who have contributed their knowledge and talents. Thank you for sharing your passion for the natural world, and onward to 2017.