Blessed with free time on this cold but sunny day we drive out north of town to a maze of unnamed meadows and forest. It’s 5 degrees when I step into snowshoes and move through some scrub spruce to the first meadow. Aki hesitates before leaping her way to me through 8 inches of new snow. Did she think we would find summer here?
We are in shadow but sunlight is reaching most of this long thin field of snow. Tall spruce trees border one side of the meadow while alders and stunted spruce run along the other side. More stunted trees form scatted islands of green on the sea of white. Even though it hasn’t snowed for days, we are the first to break trail. Aki follows in the wake of my snowshoes, saving her strength.
A half mile in we cross a fresh ski track. Aki exploits the long packed trail to speed ahead of me. She has to backtrack when I veer away to follow a stream that promises access to another meadow I’ve been wanting to explore. Here we see a strange thing. There’s an otter slide on the steep stream bank that ends abruptly at a small circle of snow free stream ice. I can’t find any otter tracks on the surrounding snow. It’s as if the otters played a game of pain; sliding on their belly in their slick slide to crash headlong on the frozen stream. I imagine the concussed otters climbing slow back up to slide to try again.
Later we find the answer where another well used otter trail leads from stream to woods. It starts at a circle of snow cleared area on the stream ice. The surrounding snow shows the efforts of otters digging open a hole in the ice. Mystery solved. The otters first made a hole in the ice being using the slide to fly down the stream bank and into open water. Our local fraternity
Aki wants to follow the otter trail into the woods but I convince her that no good would come of it. Just before beginning our return to the car we break into the woods and find deep inside a stream no wider than my snowshoe. Having frozen after the snow it is still the rich color of amber, today made spectacular by a single shaft of sun light reaching it from the meadow. Unexpected beauty always provides the richest feast.