From time to time I take what I call a "listening walk."
As much as anything it is an excuse to be outdoors for a casual jaunt.
Tuesday's listening walk was a trip to the Club, a hunting-fishing-shooting parcel in Ashtabula County that me and about 500 other people are members.
On this afternoon I was the club's sole visitor, due in no small measure to the heavy slug of snow on the ground.
With my two Labardor retrievers as companions, we walked from the dog training clubhouse west to the 100-yard shooting range and back and then to the gate and back: A distance of about one mile.
Jenny Lynn and Berry often ran out of the track plowed Sunday which left a narrow guage of cleared snow.
The dogs often ran off to the sides, becoming buried up to their chest or even back in the fallen snow.
I looked for signs of deer or other wild critters, though I found none.
Not that I was surprised by the lack of hoof print activity.
It's been a tough January.
So far this has been the ninth snowiest January on record with 10 days yet to go. A total of 25.5 inches of snow has fallen this month and measured at Cleveland Hokins International Airport.
Clearly, this is the time of year that tests the mettle of wild life. It seperates those animals that will likely survive and those that will die.
It becomes the suvival of the fittest, leaving the genes of the strongest to prevail and continue the species.
Conditions likely will only get worse, too. The warm-up today will be quickly followed by a period of intense cold. That weather condition will lay down a heavy covering of crust on the deep snow.
It's tough enough for animals to plow through several inches of snow. Add a couple inches of hard crust and the chore becomes one of desperation.
Turkeys will struggle to scratch for food, state biologist Damon Greer says, and so will deer.
Even predators stand to lose. If the rabbits, mice and the like cannot get out, then hawks, fox and coyotes will go hungry. That is why we're seeing more daylight sightings of fox and coyotes while hawks are spending time hanging out around bird feeders.
All of which is a concept that is a hard nut for humans to accept, we being bent to want to help all creatures great and small. So we toss out bird seed or corn for the rascals and try to pamper them with cover and places to rest.
But nature in general and winter in particular are cruel masters on wildlife. There is only one retirement plan for deer, song birds and the like and that is death. There is no such thing as wildlife dying of old age in the field or forest.
These things I have seen on my various listening walks and where either piles of bird feathers or clumps of rabbit fur lie and where a fox, coyote or hawk prevailed.
None of happened on this listening walk, however. All I had was the gay sight of snow blowing across the Club's open fields and covering the trenches made by the snow plow.
But I know that at some other listening walk I'll run across the signs of the survivors or those critters that spent the winter huddled asleep in some burrow.
There's a lot to be said for taking a listening walk as it brings to mind the mortality of the woods and of ourselves.