Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Thaw Before the Storm

After a week of above-freezing temperatures, the colossal snowbanks along the side streets and highways are starting to subside. In their wake they leave a winter's worth of accumulated sand, trash, car parts, and dead animals that have, until now, been encased in snow and ice. It's an ugly time of year, with the filthy road grime and brown snow, but it's also a wonderful time of year: it's early spring, the ground is thawing, and the ice on Lake Superior is melting away.

In typical Upper Peninsula fashion, of course, a snowstorm is barreling toward us now. Early April always seems to bring one last hurrah for winter in the form of several inches of heavy snow, only to have it melt within a day or two of falling.

On my way to work this morning, I spotted something that was very-white against the very-brown snowbank alongside the highway. It took me a moment to realize that what I saw was a snowshoe hare, in its winter pelage. I'd never seen a white snowshoe hare before, and soon I was doubling back to retrieve it. Though it appeared to be a fresh hit, it wasn't. The body had been entombed in the snowbank for some time: it was slightly squished, a little bit freeze-dried, and stuck to the ice upon which it rested.

The first thing that struck me, of course, was the color of the hare. I don't believe I've ever seen a white mammal in the wild before, and the fur seemed almost foreign or exotic, or like that of a domesticated animal. Its ears were small and rounded; its huge feet were covered in dense hair.

One problem I've had with photographing lagomorphs is that, overall, their bodies are very amorphous. They don't have toe pads or visible claws, their mouths are small (and frankly, kind of creepy), and their thick fur obscures the curves and angles of their musculature. For this snowshoe hare, I focused on the head and ears, as well as its large hind feet.

After I finished photographing the hare, I placed it on the riverbank as an offering for the neighborhood foxes. I feel very lucky to have seen this animal; its fur was so very clean against the dirty snowbanks, but I know that the snow that will fall tonight will be that same, bright white.

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