JUST FOLLOW THE TRACKS!

By Norris Chambers

             Until I was seven years old we lived in an area where it never snowed. My mother told me about snow and how pretty it was. She said the ground was covered with it and that when you walked in it you left tracks. I could visualize tracing the tracks of wild animals after a snow and catching them. The wild animals I had in mind were rabbits because that was about the only kind of wild animal I knew of. I did know about the moles that traveled underground and left the surface of the ground ruffled where they went. They were considered a field pest because they damaged the vegetable crops. I didnít think they would leave much of a trail in the snow.

            We didnít get very hot there in the summer and she told me about the weather getting so warm where we moved from that the wind was hot and very uncomfortable. I had a hard time imagining wind that was hot. That was almost as hard to imagine as white powder that was very cold and covered the ground.

            When we moved back to Brown County in 1924 I was anxious to see some of these marvels of nature. I remember my mother and dad loading the old Model T truck with all the stuff it would hold and driving away before daylight one morning. Before we got very far we had a front tire go flat. Before my dad got it fixed it was well past daylight. I remember many of the four hundred miles we traveled. We stopped and ate by the side of the road and when night came we spread some bedding on the ground and slept. I guess we were lucky that it didnít rain. On the fourth day we got to the old farm that my parents had left in 1918.

            It was late August when we arrived and I got a little sample of the hot weather, but none of the hot winds my mother had told about. I was seven years of age after the school term started and I would not be able to start to school until the next year. I had a whole year to explore the country and get acquainted with all these strange things.

            There was considerable talk about Christmas and my mother said she was glad that we had not had much cold weather. If it took cold weather to bring snow I was ready for a little cold weather. I was really looking forward to tracking down some wild game. My dad explained to me that there were some years that it just didnít snow. It had been cloudy all day and a little cold. I asked if it were cold enough to snow. I was told that it was cold enough if everything else was right.

            It was beginning to get dark and I was on the porch looking out at the cloudy sky. Suddenly I saw a tiny white speck drifting downward and then another. Could this be snow? It must be because it looked like the descriptions of snowflakes that I had heard. While I was thinking about the snow that surely was here I was summoned to supper.

            When I entered the kitchen I exclaimed, ďItís going to snow tonight!Ē  My dad asked me how I knew. ďI just know!Ē I told him.

            The next morning the ground was white just like the snow pictures I had seen. I was quick to announce that snow had arrived. My mother asked how I knew it was going to snow when I told them last night. I said that I just smelled it in the air. I never told anyone that I had seen a few flakes falling before supper.

            I didnít lose any time finishing breakfast and making my way toward the field where I had seen several rabbits hopping about. I was about to track some real wild game as I had hoped to do.  I was a little disappointed when I saw so many tracks. I couldnít do any tracking there because there were so many paw prints that I couldnít find any single set to concentrate on.             There was just one thing to do. Find an area where there were not so many rabbits and then look for a single set of tracks. I headed for an old rock fence on the east side of the field and began looking for some tracks. I soon found a nice set traveling north along the fence. They didnít look exactly like rabbit tracks, but I wasnít particular. I began tracking in earnest and soon the trail left the rock fence and headed into the brush on the east side of the field. It was a little harder to track here because there were places where the snow had been deflected by the trees and did not cover the ground. I managed to follow the tracks for two or three hundred yards and then they stopped at the base of a big post oak tree. There was snow on the ground and I could not find tracks leaving in any direction. About eight feet up from the trunk there was a hole in the side of the tree.  Could this be where my wild beast had gone?

            By placing a couple of logs against the tree I was able to climb up it enough to look in the hollow inside. When I stared down into the hollow hole a snarling face stared at me with sharp teeth showing. I made a hasty retreat and headed for the house. When I described the vicious animal I had tracked and escaped from I was informed that it was only a Ďpossum and that they were not considered dangerous animals.

            That was my first view of a Ďpossum. Clifton and I hunted and skinned many of them in the years ahead. It was a good source of spending money since the hides were in demand. We knew the location of dozens of possum trees and during hunting season we found enough of them to make a little spending money. We thought Ďpossum hunting was fun but itís been over seventy-five years since Iíve skinned a Ďpossum. I know now that there are other things that are more fun.