My front yard is buried under deep snows that have been accumulating since late November. Shaded by our house, it gets little direct sunshine until the Vernal Equinox.
By its outward appearance it looks like an expanse of undisturbed white snow, other than at its center, where a sidewalk leads down to the street and our mailbox.
Fresh snows keep covering up evidence of activity, such as when Kiri, our Labrador retriever, goes galumphing across the yard. Fresh snows also reveal other visitors. A week ago, just after a half-inch of snow, there were deer tracks going down the sidewalk. The deer walked through the deep snow next to our house and then took the easy route back to the street.
The last couple years we’ve had a family of mule deer living in our neighborhood and the sight of deer tracks in fresh snow has gotten routine. The deer are most active at night so we don’t see them all that often, though there are surprises, such as the early morning last winter when I was up early to go duck hunting. When I brought Kiri out of the house she immediately went tearing down the driveway, growling and woofing, scattering half a dozen deer in as many directions. I don’t know how Kiri saw or sensed them so quickly in the pre-dawn gloom, because they were still almost invisible to me.
Last spring, when the snows melted, I was amused to see a pile of deer droppings on the old grass, indicating that at least one deer came into our fenced-in backyard during the winter to check out the situation.
A couple weeks ago, while my wife and I were eating dinner, two yearling deer strolled down the alley behind our house.
Last August we were getting organized to go camping over Labor Day and to get out for the first grouse hunting of the season. At the same time we were finishing up a kitchen remodeling project, and Terry, our contractor, looked up from his plans and looked out our front window and said, “You don’t have to go out of town to go hunting. They’re right out there,” pointing to a 3-point mule deer buck standing in the street in front of our house.
These mule deer are a relatively new addition to the neighborhood. Before they came our usual wildlife residents were mainly cottontail rabbits and songbirds.
A rare sighting a few years ago was a red squirrel jumping along the backyard fence, tormented by a pair of magpies, who made it clear that squirrels don’t belong in our neighborhood.
Another rare sighting was over 20 years ago. I had just come home, tired and sweaty, from an afternoon walk in the mountains in an unsuccessful hunt for grouse. As I drove into the driveway, my wife was walking out the back door of our house carrying a camera. She beckoned to me to follow her, explaining that our next-door neighbor called, saying, “Come over here if you want to see a grouse.” Sure enough, there was a dusky (or blue, if you prefer) grouse feeding on berries in his hedge. This grouse had evidently wandered down from the heights of the East Ridge in search of some variety in its diet.
There is other wildlife in the neighborhood that we rarely see but still sense their presence. I’m thinking, of course, of springtime evenings when there’s a scent of skunk wafting in the air.
Of course, people living on the outskirts of the city, or along a watercourse that comes through town, have more wildlife sightings, such as bobcats, moose, and the occasional black bear. One of my wife’s friends told of coming home from a weekend and finding half a dozen elk bedded down in their yard, resting from the exertions of cleaning all the apples off their tree.
I worry, at times, about my garden, with all these deer living in the ‘hood. So far, though, it’s cottontail rabbits that nibble off the choicest and most tender spring seedlings.