Daily wanderings with the dogs behind my house this winter in once familiar territory is now disorienting, unrecognizable, and almost wild. The landscape around this part of Idaho has been covered in record breaking snow depths. Desolate and barren. I’ve been obsessed with three bare trees, some wooden fence posts, and barbed wire that dominate the monochromatic landscape. During near whiteout conditions these guide our way. Some of the fence post tops are painted bright orange. I’ve counted the space between the orange ones many times, it’s about every 10-13 posts.
The deep-to-your-waist snow pack is making survival for some creatures more difficult. We trudged along following a single set of elk tracks on the frozen ground for about a mile before the tracks disappeared over a fence and out of sight. The elk, was probably heading to the next ranch in search of food left out for wintering cow herds.
A swooping red-tailed hawk in the sky catches the dogs’ attention. They gaze overhead watching it catch the wind with its long graceful wings. One day, we saw a mess of bird feathers scattered on the icy road. The feathers along with some specks of bright red blood looked like they came from a Hungarian Partridge. The dogs stopped and smelled for a few seconds. They miss hunting and finding their own birds.
The dogs’ fast running pace ahead of me slows as they hear a pack of wild coyotes yipping in the near distance. We all stop to listen. They cock and tilt their heads to the side in curiosity, then run back to me. I don’t think they’re afraid, I think they just came back to tell me not to worry.
Peat dives head first into the deep snow bank retrieving an animal bone. Part of a leg, I think? He carries it around proudly before I force it from his mouth and fling it in the air and back into its snow grave. Winter is beautiful but it’s sometimes cruel and wild. One animal sacrifices its life for another. The coyotes might eventually find the bone again. Peat with his keen bird dog nose will definitely find it again, tomorrow.
Me, my dogs, the solitude, the quietness: I wouldn’t mind winter lasting a little longer. The red-wing blackbirds with their musical trill have been slowly showing up at my backyard bird feeder to remind me that spring is on the way. The snowy whiteness will soon disappear and the hills underneath those three solitary trees will be covered with green grass.