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Outdoors: New Year

800px-Mouse_tracks_in_snow.jpg

Several years ago at a New Year’s Day gathering, back when gatherings were safe, the hosts were playing another public radio station as background music, but my ears perked up when I heard the strains of "Les Préludes.” It seemed appropriate, New Year’s Day being a beginning. The score preface reads “What else is our life but a series of preludes….”

Never mind that the text goes on to talk about Death. At Interlochen we think of "Les Préludes” as the beginning of the rest of our lives. But to anyone who has ever attended the arts camp, the ending of this work, as Liszt wrote it, seems abrupt.

Abrupt endings—in music, in plays, in movies and novels… and out in nature leave me—unsettled.

Recently, I found the tracks of a mouse, tiny four-print patterns zigging and zagging between the trees and then, suddenly, they just stopped. Careful observation revealed very faint imprints of wing feathers. And because the snow had started at night and I found the tracks in early morning, I'm thinking the bird was an owl.

But owls are not the only cause of abrupt endings.

Often I find small mammal tracks complete with tail marks and these prints just stop. Shrews! These tiny but voracious hunters are active all winter. They tend to travel along the surface of the snow, and then, for reasons known only to them, they plunge into the snow and burrow for considerable distances.

I remember puzzling over tracks which went in a straight line through a field and then just stopped. A fox travels in a straight line, but that didn't seem right. Not until I looked up and noticed that I was under a utility line did I realize that the "tracks" were made by globs of snow which had dropped from the wire.

In the snow, abrupt endings can indicate a hunting technique. Sometimes they are obituaries written in snow. But most abrupt endings in the snow remain a mystery.

In this new year, may you enjoy the mysteries of nature along with a positive “series of preludes.”

"Outdoors with Coggin Heeringa" can be heard every Wednesday on Classical IPR.