Snow and Voles: the Drama Continues

The snow just keeps falling. And accumulating. I measured 40 inches (101.6 cm) on the ground this morning, February 17, 2021. Forecast calls for more snow over the next several days.

Ullr – the Norse god of snow and patron saint of skiers – sure is delivering this winter. Skiers are happy.

My last post whined about a big dump of new snow keeping us at home all day February 15th, but the skies cleared by dusk. County roads and my driveway got plowed. I went to bed anticipating good conditions for a forest run with the boys.

We awoke the morning of the 16th to another four inches of new snow. A surprise, but no worries, we still went out into the forest, thanks to the plowed roads and driveway the day before. I switched from running shoes to boots and we enjoyed a hike rather than a run. It felt so good after a day of inactivity.

dogs, snow, forest
Hike in the forest morning of February 16, 2021. Finn found it easier to walk in Conall’s tracks rather than break trail in the new, sticky snow.

Later that day the sun broke through the clouds. Realizing that all the new snow in the yard was keeping the boys from using their usual paths (and potty spots), I decided to strap on my snowshoes and pack down their paths for them. (This is where you either think, “Aw, she’s such a good dog mom,” or “She’s frickin’ nuts, let the dogs make their own paths.”)

snowshoes, dogs, snow
Ready to pack snow so the boys have more room to play (and poop). February 16, 2021.
snowy yard
A section of yard before packing paths. February 16, 2021.
snowy yard with packed path
Same section, post-packing. February 16, 2021.
dogs in snowy yard
The boys seems to appreciate my efforts. February 16, 2021.

As I was about to punch through the snow to make a path along on the north side of the yard I saw Conall digging. And digging. Vole? Surely not; he hadn’t caught a vole in a long while.

dogs digging in snow
Conall digging through the snow. February 16, 2021.

I stopped to watch, as did Finn. Conall was persistent, digging deeper through the snow. I’ve learned that if Conall is that focused, it’s for good reason.

Finn took up a position nearby. Often he tries to help Conall dig, but this time, he decided to just supervise. When I edited this series of photos later that day, I couldn’t help but think that Finn looked like those bored road construction supervisors one often passes when driving, you know, the guy keeping watch while someone else does the heavy work.

I returned to my own business at hand: packing paths. Several steps later I looked over and saw that Conall had indeed found a vole!

I continued packing paths through the yard. The boys followed me around, delighted I’d made things so easy for them.

dogs in snowy yard
Boys testing the newly-packed paths through some pretty deep snow. February 16, 2021.

It was nearing dusk. What to do with Conall’s vole? I wanted it to be a contribution to Conall’s Food Bank for Ravens – they hadn’t had a meal from us in a long while – so I picked it up (with a shovel) and moved it to a spot on top of undisturbed snow where it would be visible to the ravens and to me from my home office window. I hoped to see a raven take it in the morning. The forecast didn’t include much if any new snow overnight or the next day, so I hoped it would remain visible.

Conall’s latest raven food bank contribution atop the snow, evening of February 16, 2021.

Once again, I went to bed with plans to be up and out for a run or hike just after daybreak the next day.

Ullr wasn’t cooperating. The weather forecast was…way off. We awoke this morning to more new snow, this time 6-8 inches with more falling at daybreak.

Given this new snow, on top of the four or so inches that had fallen after my driveway and the roads were plowed on the 15th, it didn’t seem prudent to venture out.

And those paths I’d packed for the boys yesterday? Mere indentations now.

I suddenly understood the frustration of those who plow snow all winter: just when you think you’ve got the snow pushed aside and things are neat and tidy, it snows again. And again.

It continued to snow through the morning, so we huddled inside. I, at least, have a stationary bike and yoga to get indoor exercise in these circumstances. The boys just get bored.

Eventually the snow stopped and the sun broke through the clouds.

snow on fence and trees
The snow is now 40 inches deep and nearing the top of my five-foot fence in places. February 17, 2021.

This afternoon the boys and I went outside to play. I quickly realized I needed to pack those paths again, as the boys showed no interest in doing it themselves so there was little room for them to stretch their legs.

Hard to see my hard work packing paths the day before. February 17, 2021.

But the packing would have to wait a couple hours. I had work to do inside.

I had wondered what had become of Conall’s vole, left on the snow yesterday afternoon before the latest snowfall. Had the ravens found it, or was it buried?

Conall answered that question for me. I was editing photos on my computer when I had this strange sensation of being stared at. I looked behind me and saw Conall on one of the dogs beds in my office, a vole between his front paws. As soon as I noticed, he got all happy and proud, picked the vole up in his mouth and took it back outside, dropping it onto the snow on the deck. I praised him lavishly and offered him a treat.

But…had he found another one? Were we back to the days of him finding one or more each day, Conall’s Food Bank for Ravens fully stocked?

Computer work done and the sun dipping toward the horizon, I once again strapped on my snowshoes and ventured out into the yard to clear any dog bombs that weren’t already buried by the new snow and re-pack the dogs’ paths.

dogs in snow paths, sun
Finn and Conall testing the paths I re-established through the yard, February 17, 2021.

That’s when I realized what happened to yesterday’s vole. Conall found and retrieved it.

paw prints, divot in snow
Conall’s front paw prints at lower edge of photo, below the blood-stained snow divot where he pushed his nose through to find yesterday’s vole, buried under several inches of overnight snow. February 17, 2021.

He brought it inside to show me. So now I have to wonder: did Conall find and move that vole to make sure I would make it visible to the ravens again? He doesn’t normally bring dead voles inside to show me, but rather leaves them in the yard.

Once again I placed the vole atop the snow in a spot visible from my office window. Conall noticed and investigated. “Leave it,” I told him, and hoped he would.

Conall checks on his vole after I placed it for the ravens the second time. February 17, 2021.

And once again, after I went inside, Conall retrieved it. This time he brought it back to the deck, where he guarded it, from me and from Finn, for the rest of the evening.

Rather than move the vole yet again, knowing that to keep Conall from retrieving it my only option was to toss it over the fence where it would likely disappear under the soft snow, I decided to leave it on the deck. Tomorrow morning – assuming we don’t get yet another unexpected dump of snow tonight – when the boys and I venture out into the forest to play (weather gods permitting) the vole will be visible to the ravens who still fly over the house regularly, hoping for a meal.

I really hope the vole is gone tomorrow. That would make us all happy, the ravens, me, even Conall, who won’t have to guard it any longer. (Finn couldn’t care less about dead voles.) Maybe – if I’m lucky – I’ll get to see a raven swoop into the yard to take it.

This deep snow has made our small world so very quiet. I haven’t seen or heard a coyote or fox in many days. It’s been unusually quiet at night, although recently I have heard a great horned owl hooting in the wee hours. The deep snow not only muffles the usual sounds of humans and their machines, it keeps the wildlife out of sight and hearing. Rather than venture into the open fields, wildlife stays up in the forest where tree cover must make moving through the snow easier. Even the deer, with their long legs, struggle through this 3.5 feet of snow in the open fields.

As much as I love snow, I’m about ready to cry “Uncle!” I don’t want to see my yard fence disappear underneath the snow. I remember one prior winter, before Finn and certainly before Conall, when the snow was this high. I remember worrying that my female malamutes, Maia and Meadow, might just walk right over the top of the fence and wander the neighborhood, but they never did. That’s when I understood that they knew the yard was their territory, the fence their boundary, and they were happy to stay inside the line where it was safe.

That understanding was never more clear than one cold, clear night mid-winter. This was before I installed a dog door, so I was constantly getting up through the night to let one or the other dog in or out. On this particular night, Maia was outside – she often preferred sleeping on the snow most of the night. Meadow felt it was her duty to protect me, so she was in her usual spot sleeping beside my bed. Around midnight Meadow suddenly jumped up and went to the door, which of course woke me up and put me on alert. This wasn’t a typical I need to go out and pee situation. Rather than let Meadow out, I flipped on the outside lights, flooding the yard with bright light. What I saw made my heart stop: Maia was sitting on the hard, crusty snow, about three feet inside the fence, which was almost entirely buried in snow, looking beyond the fence into the field. There, just a few feet slightly down slope, was a coyote, pacing back and forth in front of Maia.

I wasn’t sure what to do! I mean, given the crusty, hard snow surface, Maia’s weight was supported and she could easily have stood and walked right over the top of the fence into the field where the coyote was pacing. But Maia didn’t seem scared, or alarmed. She wasn’t woofing or barking. She seemed…calm, and intrigued, watching.

I opened the door as quietly as I could, careful to keep Meadow inside. I was afraid Meadow, the braver and more protective of the two dogs, would go charging after the coyote in an effort to protect Maia. When Maia saw me, she stood and faced the coyote, but now taking a more aggressive posture, knowing I was there as backup. Fearing she might now have the courage to chase the coyote, I yelled, “Maia, stay!” while clapping my hands together as loud as I could to spook the coyote. The coyote startled and turned to run away. After several paces, it stopped briefly to give Maia a last look before disappearing into the dark. After watching the coyote go, Maia came to me, tail high, excited and proud. We went back inside, only then my heart rate returning to normal. I didn’t let either dog out the rest of the night.

As I ran the entire scene through my mind that night – it took a while before I was able to sleep again – I decided the coyote wasn’t trying to harm Maia, and she knew that. Neither was acting aggressively. The coyote was likely curious about her, maybe even smitten. I’m just grateful Meadow sensed something was happening outside and alerted me, as I’m not sure how things would have played out had I not intervened.

As I used my snowshoes to pack the boys paths in the yard, especially those close to the fence, I couldn’t help but remember that night when Maia met the coyote across the fence. I decided I wouldn’t pack paths too close to the fence. I know, from watching the boys in the forest, that they know that the snow off trail (or road) is too soft to support their weight, so it’s not worth trying to chase anything. And right now, the snow is so soft there’s no chance in hell either of them would do anything but drown in the snow if they tried to hop the fence into the field.

But a coyote, right beyond the yard fence? I think Conall would be like Maia, staying inside the fence, in his territory, no matter how upset he was.

I don’t want to find out if I’m right.

20 thoughts on “Snow and Voles: the Drama Continues”

  1. Now that is what I call snow. We think this 15 inches here is a lot. I made circles in this 3 acre yard and wore nyself out walking through our small amount of snow in my boots. Your photos of the scenery in Idaho are so beautiful. For several years after I left home my folks lived in Orofino, Idaho and mom would send me pictures of their winter snows. Love the fact that you and your dogs are always out in nature – enjoying its beauty.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey, 15 inches of snow in Arkansas IS a lot! I love that you get out in it, walking and taking photos; clearly you’ve still got some “Idaho” in you ’cause I bet not many of your neighbors are as enamored of the snow as you!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree. I guess it’s that coyotes often consider our small pets prey, so we’re always wary of them and they leave us with that eerie feeling when we see them. Maia likely outweighed that coyote by 50 lbs, so I don’t think it was looking for a fight or a meal, but I’ll never know exactly what the two of them were “talking” about, or for how long.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. When playing with dead voles is one of the more exciting parts of your day…well, perhaps you’ve been snowed in too long? Just sayin’. 😈 Wow, you really got socked by Mom Nature. Near five feet on the ground. Henceforth, I propose that voles captured by Conall from under the snow be officially called “Snoles.”

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I wouldn’t want to find out, either. Those coyotes have plenty of alluring tricks up their “sleeves.” Bear and Teddy and I think you’re a good “mom.”

    P.S. I think playing with dead voles is a good use of your time. Your pal, Teddy Bear T. Dog

    Liked by 1 person

  4. We have had a lot of snow here in NYC this winter, with no bare ground for weeks which is quite unusual. Today we got a few more inches. But 40 inches?!?!?!? Geesh! My terrier would be buried!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What a great story. And wow that’s a lot of snow. We’ve had a fair bit lately too, but not like what you’ve gotten. Great pics and love those doggies’ personalities. The analogy of the construction worker fit perfectly. 😆

    Liked by 1 person

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