Snow, finally, on Saturday. About five inches, enough to coat the back meadow and the hills above. After feeding the two cats who live in the garage and brushing a hard crust of snow from the satellite dish, I strapped on my snowshoes for the first time this winter.
Crossing the meadow, I saw the confused tracks of the dozens of turkeys that live on our place and use it as a causeway from adjoining properties. Up at the gravel road we built to our future home site, I saw the paw prints of our neighbor's Australian shepherd, Duke, and then the boot prints of our neighbor Dave Pielaet and his girlfriend, Theresa. And then, as I neared a lone pine at the head of the road's switchback, I heard a sound I'd never heard before in the valley. It came from the hills to the west, starting low and rising higher as the howl pierced the cold, thick air. I've heard plenty of coyotes through the years, and this was no coyote. And it wasn't the blue tick hound that lives south of us. I believe it was a wolf, perhaps the first in our valley for years. A survivor of packs that no doubt roamed our area before civilization swept in. It howled twice, and then - nothing.
I waited a few beats, then moved on, down past the ruin of the old homesteader's barn, across a small bridge I'd built last summer over Anna Spring, and along the ATV trail I'd cut and cleared the same summer. Hopping across the spring further south, I doubled back to where that trail met a long hill that goes back up to the home site. There, at the junction, I saw another survivor - a small fir tree I'd transplanted three years ago from the middle of a walking trail to an open space in front of a row of hawthorn trees. The little fir was covered with snow, the weight bending its thin branches nearly to the ground. I swept off the snow with the basket of a snowshoeing pole, and the branches sprang up and quivered with life. The little fir was fine, a bit deer-nibbled, but still fine, better than the first year when the top was chewed off.
As I crested the hill and clumped to the home site, fresh snow started blowing in from the south, pushing me down the road and then coating the front of my sweatshirt as I turned the switchback toward home and a hot cup of tea.