Impressions in the snow tell fascinating stories |

Impressions in the snow tell fascinating stories

Life in Our Mountain Town, Katie Shaffer

Whether it’s tire tracks or animal tracks, we all leave our marks in the snow.

The road leading up to my house has undergone a series of transformations in recent weeks. After the heavy snow of December, the January sunshine caused the snow to melt off the hillside onto the road by day, and at night it would freeze, creating a steep ice rink to negotiate.

Five different visitors tried to drive up our road that month, and all encountered problems.

My husband and I drive up and down this particular stretch of road daily, but, as my husband points out, it helps to have studded tires and a knowledge of where to gun the accelerator on the flatter parts in order to make it up the steep parts.

At several switchbacks, we had large indentations left in the snow bank where a vehicle had been pressed against it, leaving a very distinct mark.

A wet snow followed, with the expected freezing at night, which changed the road from a slippery nightmare to a deeply rutted road. These icy ruts correct your tires with a jerk if you drift ever so slightly, not unlike the Autopia ride at Disneyland.

As the deep icy tracks turned to slush, the road transformed again, this time turning it into Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.

As the snow piles up, the banks grow higher providing a cushion to bounce off of. There are pot holes to dodge, and here and there those icy ruts remain, abruptly realigning your wheels back into the track.

My husband drives this stretch of road with the seat belt reminder bell ringing. Fastening my seat belt is the first thing I do before I even start the ignition.

Our propane delivery guy always calls to check on the condition of the road before putting chains on all four tires and heading up to fill our tanks. We can always tell when he’s come by because of the gouges left in the road at the turns. Needless to say, we’re grateful that we have someone even willing to make the trip.

We used to have a couple of snowmobiles, which a few members of my family enjoyed using. Apparently, I did not drive these fast enough to enjoy them. My reluctance to accelerate created a situation in which I chugged along breathing in exhaust. Between the noise and the fumes, I usually lasted a few minutes and then I’d let someone else enjoy them.

We recently sold the snowmobiles to a friend who came up last week to test them out and take them home. My husband asked our friend to try and stay on our property. We have a neighbor who understandably does not appreciate snowmobile riders cruising across her property. Of course, my husband did not show him exactly where our property ends and hers begins, so now we have snowmobile tracks going in and out of her carefully planted trees which border her side of the meadow. Hopefully, it will snow soon to cover up those telling tracks in the snow.

When I’m out on cross country skis or snow shoes, or just walking along the plowed road with my dogs, I always notice the tracks left by animals.

Often coyote or deer tracks indicate that these animals prefer to travel up or down our road rather than traipse through the deeper snow in the forest.

Last winter one of my dogs took off with a pack of coyotes. Their tracks helped me know which way to go after her. I hurriedly threw on my cross country skis, although the choice of skis over snow shoes turned out to be a poor one as the snow had a slick crusty top layer. Of course, our snowmobiles would have been the best option, but that didn’t occur to me. My feet kept slipping out from underneath me as I struggled to catch up with my dog. After a while, I ran into a neighbor who told me he had seen my dog “playing” with two coyotes. My dog eventually came back, a little bloody, but in better shape than me on my skis. I had a pulled groin muscle.

When there’s a fresh layer of snow on the ground, I love to notice the tracks left by animals who have ventured out from their dens. The rabbit tracks always seem to emerge from tree wells.

I have one dog that stays on top of the snow and another who sinks below the surface with every step. She’s the one with hip problems; the one who takes off with coyotes.

My dogs run ahead of me when we’re out for a walk, a ski or a snow shoe because they are familiar with the different loops we take. I follow their tracks and can plainly see exactly where they get side-tracked.

I enjoy the tracks in the snow, which always reveal something, whether they’re made by man, beast or little tiny creature.

Katie Shaffer is a Truckee resident. Life in Our Mountain Town appears every other week in the Sierra Sun. Reach her at

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