By Paul F. Thibodeau
Suddenly It's Winter

With the recent snowfall central Maine has experienced, I took the opportunity to try out my cross-country skis. I always find it exciting to witness the fresh tracks that are left by the wildlife and humans that frequent our local forests the day after a new snow. With this in mind, I took a camera, and headed towards one of my favorite outdoor locations.

As I skied across our lot adjacent to MacKenzie Avenue I noticed tiny tracks of the resident red squirrels that inhabit the woods beyond a huge granite wall. Traveling east up the rocky trail, I noticed the fresh tracks of one of the forest's snowshoe hares on the newly fallen snow, and as I reached the crest of the ridge, I could see a number of partridge prints that vanished beyond a fir thicket.

The late afternoon sun illuminated the young beech leaves on the west side of the trail as I stopped to record images of the spectacular scene with my digital camera. After taking several photographs of the backlit golden beech leaves against the blue shadows of the snow and the dark forest, I began skiing on towards the White Point. I've been working on a number of winter landscapes, and planned on utilizing those images for new works.

As I glided along the woods road towards Mattanawcook Lake's marsh, several chickadees flushed from the roadside thicket, and landed in nearby young birches. Their raspy cries emanated from those white trees as I approached the tiny black-capped birds that let me come within a few feet before they darted away. Traveling swiftly down one of the roads, previously used by skidders, towards the marsh, I was suddenly startled by the thunder of wing beats in a fir thicket just a dozen feet away. Frozen in my tracks, I observed another partridge flush from the soft woods, and yet a third bird even closer! It was pleasant to witness that there were a few of the game birds left in the area after Maine has had such poor weather for them to reproduce in the past two years.

When I reached the wetland, the sun was just illuminating the east end of the marsh. Making my way around the perimeter of the swale, I happened on several white poplar stumps and fallen trees... evidence of active local beavers. Earlier in the fall I'd noticed that the large rodents had created a number of muddy trails from the marsh up the angled embankments to their preferred softwoods. As I broke from the forest, the sun illuminated the beavers' massive six-foot high pyramid-shaped home. Having just a few minutes before sunset to photograph the stick-built abode, I quickly began to capture images of the beaver house and the maroon-colored marsh in the waning light. When I made a closer examination of the perimeter of the beavers' home, I discovered that a trapper had erected a series of posts in the marsh. Apparently a technique utilized by trappers is to construct fence-like barriers around the meandering thoroughfares that lead to the beavers' house, and place a trap where they are likely to swim.

I retraced my ski trek along the road through the forest, and along the snow-adorned trail in the fading blue twilight. When a snowshoe hare suddenly bounded across my path, I struggled to ready my digital camera, but that rabbit had other plans, and darted into the thick underbrush before being photographed.

There's certainly an inspiring beauty and peace in Maine's snow-blanketed wilderness, and as winter finally settles in, more of us will be able to venture out on ski or snowshoe, and enjoy that beauty firsthand. For those local readers who choose to stay indoors, or those who reside below the Snow Belt, but still would like to share our great outdoors, you soon will be able do so. Within a few weeks I hope to have a new website up and running, that will include a number of my winter photographs, paintings, and "Over The Tea Pail" articles.