A Snow-covered Pine Island

Please welcome Audubon North Carolina’s Center Director at Pine Island Robbie Fearn. Robbie will oversee the restoration and revitalization efforts for the Pine Island Sanctuary and Currituck Sound.

The sanctuary enrobed in snow is a myth of stillness. Pine Island this morning seems a silent place; the normal winter chorus of geese and swan does not fill the marsh. Currituck Sound is frozen, or at best, a mix of ice, slush and some leads of open water. So the waterfowl, in their ancient wisdom, have moved farther south, hunkered down in sheltered bays of deeper, unfrozen water or sitting on the ice.

Outside my window, the world seems to have taken a deep breath, a meditative pause. Into this world I venture, to embrace the silence, the stillness, the myth.

The snow is powdery. My boots sink quickly to the sleet layer below. Fortunately the sleet did not freeze creating a hidden treacherous ice sheet, but rather my treads hold well, leaving distinct tracks in the snow. I trod along, plowing fresh ground with every step, certain that none have passed this way before. A new world opens up before me as I live the lie of the great explorer. Suddenly, Crusoe-like, my private world is shattered by a footprint. Fox have been here before me.

I then discover a profusion of paw prints marking the passing of numerous deer. Later appearing in the snow, the tracks of coyote, opossum, raccoon and rabbit. Most mammals can’t take wing to find shelter from the storm, so they must settle in - depending upon their knowledge of dense pine groves where less snow reaches the ground, of the location of food caches, of berries not yet harvested or of the home range of that mouse that got away yesterday.

With mice however, unlike the fox, I never knew their location. The mice burrow through the snow in sub-nivian tunnels that lead from home to food to home again.

Upon the snow, in faint impressions too, are the miniature markings left by the feet of tiny birds, juncos and warblers – yellow-rumped creatures, which I now discover are active residents of this undiscovered country. I find wing impressions too, where doves settled in the soft snow.

In my human mind, the snow-filled landscape is silent and still. But in the more-than-human world that myth is shattered, and the wondrous profusion of life carries on, leaving traces painted briefly on the canvas of newly fallen snow.