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WHAT SNOWMOBILERS STEAL

An essay by Margaret Pettis, HUPC Board Member
Margaret is a teacher and artist from Hyrum, Utah

Despite warnings of the worst air in the nation, cabin fever and the need to see Nature up close brought me to her embrace on the rhythm of my snowshoesí shush and hiss. Still I wondered how much particulate matter my lungs were ingesting.

In silence I walked amongst the fairy palaces and snowy kingdoms of hoarfrost. Far to the south, beyond reach of this deep blue shadowland, the white sun strode incognito across the horizon. Delicate patterns of stems adorned the snow in washes of blue and grey. Soft ornaments of snow dappled the sagebrush.

The three-pronged hop of a rabbit made his way there, crossing the forked pockings of songbirds ticking from sagebrush to chokecherry. Little feet had run along the fence line. What happens when the track of a little thing stops? Did it burrow to escape, or did a raptor seize it without the telltale, snowy whoosh of primary feathers? I was reporting on ghosts, tracking those who had vanished.

Well dressed for zero degrees, I marveled at the unseen, somnolent world of insects tucked under tree bark or autumn leaves filling the subnivean bedding. Their drama is seldom told or appreciated. I sensed also the winter seclusion of marmot, holed up in his den with breathing diminished to a level barely perceptible, and muskrat, a fellow whose maze of tunnels connects him to edible, submerged roots. For the vociferous return of frogs, tucked in pond ice or mud for the duration, we should pray, since their deep-throated song or vanishing foretells our own fate.

Emerging from a bower of bare branched trees, where the breeze plucked feathery petals from snowy blossoms and snow snakes looped from stout branches, I stood in a sparkling celebration of sunshine on snowflakes and turned my pale face toward the unexpected warmth. The wilderness ridgeline boasted a mantel of blue above the valleyís toxic soup.

When my snowshoes no longer scooped and squished beneath me, I realized they had clawed into the congealed track of a snowmobile. Suddenly I confronted the destruction of life beneath a mechanical joyride: a dozen figure eights had crushed the fox dens I had discovered in July. Were the pups raised and safe in a more private place that the vandals hadnít pocked and gouged with their treads? Sagebrush lay cracked and splayed at the crumbled apertures of the dens.
Where I had entered the dayís trail lay similar destruction: the swallowsí ìapartmentsî had been bulldozed flat by the city in its concern for liability posed by snowmobilersí airborne antics off the clay cliff inhabited for half a century by the fork-tailed birds.

In disgust, I headed back along the trail, winding through a gnarled, Dr. Seussian grove of Scottish thistles, curled and collapsed in upon itself. From the hillside, black caves beneath snow-laden shrubbery peered back like great dark eyes from snow-white flesh of amorphous amphibians. My imagination triggered, I strummed a single strand of barbed wire like a bass string, snowy notes scattered from a soundless measure.

Recalling the eerie, December midnight rumblings of the ice plates out on the lake, I surveyed the vast white surface of ice containing the Little Bear River. Occupied temporarily by a different sort of fisherman, auger winding into ice separating them and their thermoses from trout, the lake was deserted by the osprey of summer.

I returned to town at sundown, packing my snowshoes past eaves strung with icy baleen, rain gutters spouting saber teeth, and the nocturnal wanderings of does, whose ribbed bodies I fear we will encounter in some unlikely, sheltered place, safe from mountain lions but not their own prolonged hunger.
Against a pewter sky, four peaks towered bright pink in an alpenglow that ignited them like a breeze replenishing the glow within throbbing cinders atop a mound of ash.

As if no one else dared venture into air filled with such ethereal, sparkling frost, a magpie flashed through the trees. Yet even she hurried through the landscape, reconnoitering some morsel to sustain herself in tenuous temperatures. Her camouflage mimicked the yin and yang of our world-- the shibusa, or pure essence (to quote Moyle Q. Rice of U.S.U.) of winterís stark beauty.

(This essay has been submitted for publication in the February 2004 Xplore Section of Ogden's Standard-Examiner.)


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