I live in one of the wildest places that remain in North America. I did not say THE wildest, mind you. Its not Alaska, or the Yaak, or parts of Canada. But this place is Montana. Specifically up a canyon drainage and surrounded by Public Land, not far outside of Bozeman. I have had bears and mountain lion on the roof of my house. So of course they are walking the land around my house. But that does not mean I find their visits common. Nor am I so naive to believe that my 70 pound German Shepherd would be any match for one of these large creatures which is why she is not let out at night alone.
Tonight, just a few minutes before the curtain of night extinguished the remaining bit of light we took a walk around the house. Spring has arrived. Even early this year. But last night about two inches of snow fell on the ground. Nothing dramatic. But this is where it gets good, and where, no matter how many times I see the footprints in the snow around the house that are not hers, I am still impressed. Because the snow is new the tracks in the snow were distinguishable tonight, not the cacophony of prints that criss-crossed the land as the winter snow melted into the ground last week. As Noel followed whatever smells and tracks interested her I looked down to see some large melted spots not far from the entry of the house. The shape of the melt was not exactly recognizable, but it was not shaped like an Elk or Moose. I looked for others that were more distinct. And that is when I found them. There must have been a pair together in the early morning striding across the snow in front of the house. I checked the prints for size compared to Noel’s. My fist fits just nicely inside of hers. But these, these require two of my fists while the back pad of the foot that sits a bit up the leg was also impressed in the snow a good 4-5 inches behind the primary paw print. But the most amazing condition of the set of tracks was that there were four paw prints in a line very close to one another with a space of about four feet between each set of four. Each set of four taking about four feet, too.
If you cannot imagine this in your head, get out your sketch book and draw it. Two animals walking in-line, with one filling the gap between the first set of prints filling in the stride of the first animal for every other stride. The distance between a single stride being four feet, a large jump for me. I looked across the slope of the land where the prints emerged and then the other direction where they walked into Noel’s favorite place to visit when she was outside. Either a pack came across the land at one time, or this pair silently circumnavigated the land around the house making multiple passes and patterns. I will never know, but can only wonder and imagine.
Its dark now. Black outside, and we are inside. Until tomorrow. In the early morning we will again go check what remains of the snow for new stories, new reminders of the wildness I am lucky enough to live with.