When we have a real Nebraska winter, when the wind blows and the snow flies horizontally, the signs of life at our farm near Dannebrog, Nebraska, on the banks of the Middle Loup River, can be pretty subtle.
Oh, there is the big white house, outbuildings, windmill, a truck, lots of orange tractors.
But one of the things I have learned in my quarter-century here is that the real activity of this place -- the social goings on, the business of life, the conflict and conversation -- goes on unseen and only rarely heard, down in the river bottoms, among the trees and brush, places where humans rarely go.
I love winter because fresh snow cleans the slate, erasing the trails and tracks of previous weeks. And before long, as the animals that populate this river bottom begin their nightly travels, we will see anew who our real neighbors are.
We rarely see the critters themselves, but we see what they leave behind. I have a pretty good idea of who these visitors are. But it's always a treat when my friend Trish Freeman, a zoologist from the Nebraska State Museum, drops by, and with her knowledge and enthusiasm, helps me figure out who's been going where.
I told her there aren't a lot of tracks of me running.
It's like reading a social column: Visitors at the Welsch farm last Sunday were Mr. and Mrs. Cottontail, Ms. Coyote and her lively children, the Turkey clan, and the Deer family, always welcome at any cultured gathering.
It turns out, this isn't a naked, blank landscape at all, but a tangle and maze of roads and highways, traveled by local residents and transient tourists alike.
Some of this is simply a matter of discovery, me finding things I've never found before. But there are also changes going on. I'm seeing things that haven't been here for a long time, or are here for the first time.
Animal territories are constantly in change.
I suspect that all these creatures, represented by depressions in the snow or mud, aren't particularly interested in the tracks I leave behind. They have things to do, places to go, business to take care of. They really don't care about me except insofar as I m a danger or annoyance.
You know, actually, the other inhabitants of this place, the ones represented by these tracks in the snow, are the rightful inhabitants by benefit of tenure, if nothing else.
We humans: We're just tourists.
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