- Adaptation and Instinct takes over to Survive
- Extraordinary occurrences begin, we learn from these
- Life or death may remain in the balance
By Rich Creason
The space invaders have arrived. A tiny particle of dust rides the wind up into the heavy clouds. Ominous clouds form and are made up of millions of water droplets so small that thousands could fit on the head of a pin. The temperature in this huge mass slowly drops.
Colder and colder.
The space dust attracts the water molecules to itself and starts to grow and freeze. Countless other dust and salt particles are doing the same combining. They begin to change, to mutate.
Depending on the temperature and humidity of the air, the invaders alter into one or more of seven basic different crystal shapes. Then, they start their assault, dropping toward unsuspecting earth. Bumping into other forms often breaks off pieces of crystal, forming a new center for another crystal form to begin growing.
On and on. More and more. Bigger and bigger.
Now, the entire invading force is racing downward, growing, spreading, and combining, in its mindless desire to cover everything in its path.
Too late to run. Too late to hide. It’s here! The snow has arrived!
Depending on the crystal type, the snow might stick, pack, build-up, drift, and be fluffy, dry, wet, or crusted. Usually, to most humans, it is just more snow to be shoveled and to drive on, except for a few weird ones like me. Snow means I get to go out and shovel my driveway before daylight. For some strange reason, I enjoy being outdoors in the dark and quiet, the only sound – the noise of my shovel sliding across the pavement. I like the cold and exercise.
When my drive is clean, and the sky begins to lighten, I walk the fencerows and wooded areas near my house looking for animal tracks. The whole outdoor scene is painted in the snow.
Deer tracks are numerous.
Fox tracks used to be common but now have been replaced by coyote tracks.
Rabbit tracks also were frequently noted 15 years ago, but the coyotes have almost eliminated all of the nearby bunnies.
Mice and bird tracks follow the sheltered areas looking for food but staying close to safety.
The snow tells the whole story. Three or four times in my wanderings, I have seen an unusual story painted in the white fluff. I followed mice tracks along with the snow when they suddenly disappear. At the end of the trail was a circular depression in the snow. About 18 or 20 inches out from the depression on either side were skinny, parallel, line-like impressions in the white stuff. A mouse had been hopping along and suddenly was grabbed from above by an owl. The circular dent was where the owl body and feet hit the mouse. The lines on the side were the wingtips of the bird as he flapped to regain altitude with his meal. Without the snow, I would never get to see this picture.
I have never yet seen the story of a rabbit being chased by a fox or coyote, but I know that scene must be painted in the snow out there somewhere and I’m still looking.
When the snow accumulates to around six inches or more, I get to break out my snowshoes. Central Indiana seldom receives this much at one time, so I have to drive north to Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, or even Canada to have fun with these. I have a pair of old wood and leather shoes, plus a pair of new aluminum ones which are easier to care for and with fasteners, which are simple to strap to my boots. With my homemade walking stick, I can easily keep my balance while walking the snow trails or even through rugged areas looking for stories of wildlife in the woods. Someone who might come along behind me, who had never seen snowshoe tracks, would think Bigfoot had arrived. The biggest problem with wearing snowshoes is that my legs become exhausted and sore until I get used to walking in them again.
To plants and animals, the conditions that the snow creates literally can mean life or death for them. Many animals have evolved in extraordinary ways because of snow.
The snowshoe hare, Canadian lynx, and the ruffed grouse are among these and have developed specially adapted feet to support them as they move through the deep, white powder.
The long-tailed weasel changes its fur from brown to white in winter, to not only camouflage itself from enemies but to better hide from its prey.
Ptarmigan of the far North also change their drab summer brown to white feathers to camouflage themselves from predators.
For these and other animals that have adapted to snowy conditions, sometimes, it is neither particular help nor hindrance. Snow is sometimes an advantage to smaller creatures. Mice and other tiny mammals burrow into the white covering to avoid the extreme cold outside. They create tunnels to travel through, preventing exposure to predators.
If the snow is crusted, rabbits and other medium-size critters can walk on top of deep snow to reach food that was previously too high for them to harvest. But, the snow also hides seeds and berries from the birds that need that food type to survive. Larger animals such as fox, deer, and even the colossal moose can become weak, trying to travel through deep snow, breaking through the crust and plowing through drifts in search of their next meal. Members of the deer family will “yard up” underneath heavy tree cover where they remain until all food is gone and they are forced to move on.
Many plants benefit from a covering of snow. Snow buries smaller plants forming an insulating blanket over dormant plants and seeds, protecting them from cold or drying winds while hiding them from foraging animals. It doesn’t harm plants that have adapted, such as the birches and evergreens. These trees have smaller limbs with beautiful branches that bend with the weight of heavy snow, unlike many more giant trees that break under the load. Spruce needles catch the flakes creating a warm shelter with less snow underneath for small animals to move through with little effort.
Adaptations and instincts of different plants and animals determine how snow will affect them, whether it will help or hurt them, and sometimes even whether that particular animal or entire species will live or die.
Nature is not kind to those unable to cope.
The author may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.