For years I blithely tramped deep winter snow, my snow shoes even enabling me to leave the trail. Beautiful untouched snow—still, cold and simple, an inert cover for a sleeping land.
    Then one morning, standing with my coffee by the stone fireplace of Timberline Lodge, I spotted unexpected movement at the picture window, unexpected because the window was blocked and darkened by snowdrift. I bent to look closer. A black-eyed pine marten peered in from a snow tunnel, as if wondering why she couldn’t smell the crackling fire on view. It was February, the hunger moon on Oregon’s Mount Hood. I wondered how she or any other of the weasel family lives through winter at 6,000 feet.
    I stumbled upon answers in a 2010 article by Jeff Hull. Contrary to what I’d thought, wilderness snow is not inert, not simple, and certainly not lifeless. Deep snow teems with life down to microbe size. Mice and voles, the prey of pine martens, can thrive in winter, eating grasses and insects, even breeding, the snow a shelter much warmer than the air temperature above. Martens in turn make their living hunting these mice and voles. How unaware I’d been of the drama beneath my feet. By stepping off the trail, had I squashed tunnels?
    And what magic keeps wild creatures safe in the melting, re-freezing, sliding snow that I saw there in 2014, or the scant snow in shirtsleeve weather the following February? If tunnels drip water in a warm spell, doesn’t that soak fur to the skin? There is no magic, Hull says. Their lives are indeed precarious, even more so now that a warming earth threatens to destroy delicate seasonal timing. Now sadder but feeling a new connection, I’ll stick to the trail.

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