Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Snow Business

I know for a lot of you, snow isn't anything to write home about. You measure your snowfall in feet, where we only manage centimeters. You expect snow, it's an inevitable part of winter, along with shoveling your sidewalk and the sound of snowplows clearing your roads at 6am. Not so in the south of England.

Listening to the locals talk, this is the first time in their memory that the snow came so early - November - and that we've had a run of it. I had this conversation with everyone I bumped into at the grocery store; everyone who owned a tractor anyway. That's what they drove to the store because no one plows our roads and grit is rarer than gold nuggets. It's funny to see the car park in the supermarket filled with big tractors instead of soccer mom wagons.

So snow is a big thing for me. It makes me feel less homesick for New England winters, and it's great excuse to ignore the Soil Protection Review that I need to file with the government by 31 December and my taxes which are due a month later. Carpe the frozen diem I say, especially if it gets me out of the house.

I took all the dogs that weren't too old or still recuperating for a long walk around the estate. Yesterday's shoot day was cancelled because of a heavy snow storm and the next shoot day isn't for another week. I thought the dogs deserved a day off, just to run about and enjoy what winter has to offer

I should have known that, for them, it offered just another chance to hunt up birds in the hedges and rough covert -

 And find stuff to smell -

And maybe do a bit of sledding (Jazzie's favorite pastime), or chew on the cocker spaniel (Dakota's favorite pastime) -

For me, it was a chance to see what kind of wildlife has been moving around. I found lots of fallow deer slots -

 And rabbit prints. This one was loping along, sat down, then loped along again -

 Of course there are pheasant prints everywhere -

 And where there are pheasants, there are foxes -

The dogs found a patch of deer blood. Underkeeper Pete and Stalker Dave shot a roe deer last night in a farmer's crop. Together they had to carry it back to the yard which is a good mile away. They must have put it down here for a moment, to rest and to readjust their shared load -

As we walked up the track there were drops of blood staining the snow. I know it's Pete and Dave by their footprints. Dave wears Irish Setter boots, which have a distinct tread pattern -

And, although Underkeeper Pete has new boots, I recognise his distinctive footsteps as both his toes turn out when he walks -

Pete knows my tracks too, by the flat-footed print that my mukluks make in the snow.

I can see by fresh quad bike tracks that the farmers have been through already this morning, probably haying and checking their heifers, which are now in the barn for the winter -

Everybody knows your business when it snows.

The dogs had a good time, and tired themselves out for the afternoon. The roads are so quiet that we walked the last couple of miles in the middle of the road, and the only cars we passed were cars that couldn't make it up the icy hills and had been abandoned on the verge.

When I got home, I took the old and recovering dogs out to enjoy the snow at their own pace. I gave Hazel the dummy with the partridge feathers on it, and we played fetch (which she never gets tired of playing) -

Dulcie, who is recovering so well, didn't want to be left out of the retrieving game. Although she should be walking sensibly, I gave in and threw her my glove so she could make a few retrieves -

Like Hazel, she lives and breathes retrieving.

Old Nellie on the other hand, marches to the beat of her own drum. She was happy because she found a half a head of cabbage in the compost pile. She chose to carry that on our walk, and at the end of the walk, eat it. -

To each his own - even if your own is raw cabbage.

A week off from pheasant shooting has only freed me up to go deer stalking. I must harvest some of the deer on my patch. If it's going to be a hard winter, it will benefit all the deer if we remove some of the older or weaker ones now.

And my patch happens to be a pheasant drive too. Too many deer in a drive can spook pheasants and move them out over the guns too quickly. I'm getting a lot of ribbing for the amount of deer that came out of the woods last time we shot that drive.

At least the snow will tell me what's about. Unfortunately, my feet crunching the snow under foot will tell the deer that I'm about too. I bet they can read my tracks a lot better than I can read theirs!


Kate said...

I enjoyed taking this snowy walk with you and the dogs. Thanks!

Poppy Cottage said...


Seem to have not made or found time to blog for a while. Lily is no enjoying being a single dog as much as I thought she would, so maybe the new year will see a change in my house hold, whatever it needs me to be a lot firmer with her. Haven't heard about the dog warden job, but you never know and at least I did try. I think the new year needs to see a change in a lot of things for me. Lil would have loved to join your gang on that long walk maybe we can meet up over the next couple of weeks? Working Christmas eve which should be nice actually. Poppy Cottage has under gone some changes, and I will not do anything more now apart from paint and new bathroom windows at some point. hope you have a really lovely Christmas xx

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

It's as though New England had to top that in order to remind you that England, really, can't measure up. We got about a foot of snow in the last day and a half, and I went out this morning to see what kinds of critters had been lurking in the night.

I think a foot of snow may even keep the critters inside, because there was not a pawprint to be seen. The landscape was lovely, though. And shoveling snow is one of the chores I actually enjoy.

And enough with the deer, already. Okay?

Karen Thomason/Gordon Setter Crossing said...

Here in Montana we get more than our fair share, so it really isn't "new" to us. But, I appreciate the snow every time we get a foot or so. As you mentioned, the world is quiet and a different place when it snows. It can feel as if your the only one out there. I don't like to drive in snow, but I would hate to live where it didn't snow. I always enjoy hearing of someone else who enjoys it like me. Nice walk with the dogs.

Poppy Cottage said...

Fingers crossed with Jazz. Hope she didin't end up with one too many bitch pups else I would be tempted to beg to be considered!! (although I am pretty struck on Cockers)

Hope you both have a great Christmas.

Paula said...

Lovely post Jennifer. I enjoyed seeing the dogs have a good time and looking at all the tracks, and since I'm in my sister's chilly house (when I should really be in bed- it's a quarter to one in the morning, for heaven's sake), I'm cold enough to feel like I was there!

Good luck on getting a deer (or two?)!

Kerry said...

Ooh- it's like CSI: Dorset! Except you obviously don't need luminol.

Maria said...

Thanks for another post of full of photos of dogs :o)
I've just finished reading The Tenderness of Wolves, which is set in Canada in 1867, and has a lot of tracking of people through snow in it -and I have to say I'm very impressed at your track-reading skills, for both humans and animals!
hope you have a good Christmas in Dorset with Mike and all the dogs.

Hunter Angler Gardener Cook said...

Ah, snow. I miss it in California. All we get is endless rain. Or drought.

If your rabbit season is still open, now would be the time to put a hurt on 'em. They are not happy being brown in a white world. Rabbit stew, anyone?

Jennifer Montero said...

Colette - glad to see you back and posting again!

Tamar - I think you have more snow than us now. If it's too painful to read the deer posts, I'll put disclaimers at the beginning to spare you.

Paula - Yes you should be in bed young lady! Living in a chilly cottage encourages me to go to bed as early as possible, where the electric blankets promise me at least one warm refuge.

KEG - Oohh...I want luminol now....

Maria - my track reading skills are basic and limited, but it's fun to observe all the moments of animlas when the snow makes it possible. How is the tenderness of wolves? It's been on my reading list for ages, but if you tell me it's worth a read, I'll move it to the top.

HAGC - Funny you mention rabbits, they were the only animals I saw out on the fields when the snow was its deepest. They were so hungry that they weren't as jumpy as they usually are. I would have felt a bit badly about plinking them off like that. Unsportsmanlike. (Holly - back me up here!)


Living in Florida I find this post fascinating! Thank You!