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!