We have enough snow on the ground, after a week of intermittent top-ups and strange rainy pack-downs and yet more top-ups, that the menagerie that crosses my yard in the moonlight every night is now leaving signs that it's been here. In keeping with the rest of the inexplicably patched-together nature of a lot of my house, my kitchen has a west-facing sliding patio door perpendicular to the sink counter, and the back wall of the house is only about two feet from one wall of the garage (with its aged greenhouse tacked on the back). This space creates a confluence of corners, a little passageway where the most daring animals do not fear to tread. And so this morning, standing at the patio door, I can see that a couple of deer have tracked through that space, presumably to get into the larger yard and make a lot more tracks with their compatriots (I have deer tracks all over the yard this week, to no surprise). But I can also see the intricate threadwork of a small bird's footprints. What's amazing about them is that they look as though that bird barely hit the ground--which I suspect was the case, because, you know, birds aren't so heavy--and so they're really the lightest, loveliest wintry sign I've seen this week.
In some perhaps not unrelated development, when I awoke this morning, one of the socks I'd been wearing when I went to bed was beside my shoulder; the other was somewhere behind me. Perhaps the bird and I, as Beck says it best, were working our legs. It's been a long time since I took my socks off in my sleep.
In addition to menagerie tracks, winter farms, wandering Jehovah's Witnesses (because it's Saturday, I'm expecting a knock on the door any time now), and lightning rods, another of the peculiarities of living in rural Ohio is the preponderance of fake animals posed in people's yards. Having grown up one state to the west, I have long since gotten used to concrete geese, particularly concrete geese that get dressed up for different seasons. Last year, in fact, some students stole my neighbor's dressed up concrete goose, leaving a ransom note (he was a teacher of theirs) (he was far from amused); eventually they returned the goose, accompanied with a baby goose and a note of shamed confession (from the new mother). I've seen geese in graduation gowns, pilgrim's caps and capes, Santa hats, Easter bunny outfits, and reindeer antlers.
And the reindeer antlers bring me up to the frustrating fake animals that seem to be popular around here: fake deer. Let me make clear from the outset that I'm not talking about seasonal, light-up deer (though I have some experience with those, too). These are year-round, unilluminated yard deer, and they're painted to look real (unlike this specimen to the right, which is the raw material available from a lawn ornaments website). I've said that I live in a thunderstorm-rich area; I also live in a deer-rich area, as the preponderance of deer tracks in my own yard might suggest, not to mention the shots that I think I can still hear being fired out in the woods. Why, in an area where a deer is the most likely thing to spontaneously cause significant body damage to your car (if not also yourself) as you drive any time from dusk onward, would you pose a concrete deer or buck in your yard, facing the highway? The most macabre one I've seen, down in Johnstown, has cuts of meat marked out on its sides in white paint.
Yesterday, while driving, I added another fake animal to my fake animal repertoire: the cow. And her baby. I understand this pairing, which I saw in the front yard of an otherwise unsurprising house, even less than the yard deer, but I'm less bothered by it simply because I (unlike some people I've heard stories from this fall...) have never had a run-in with a cow on a road in the middle of the night.
Oh-ho! Another postscript: when I went out to grab photos of the bird tracks just now, before sundown, I remembered that I have seen a fake cow in this area before. It's student art, and it lives about a minute's walk from my house. In fact, it's looking my way right now.