On Christmas morning for the last 25 years, I have taken a run on the same golf course north of the in-laws’ house in Addison, Illinois. The course was once privately owned and about 10 years ago was sold to the DuPage County Forest Preserve.
A changing Christmas tradition
Over the years the weather on Christmas morning has fluctuated greatly, as you can imagine. There have been mornings frosty and cold, 12 below zero and bundled up. Also mornings of 65 degrees, strange and springlike on Christmas day. And all points in-between.
The ski alternative
A few of my “runs” over the years have turned into cross-country ski trips when the snow was too deep to run on the golf course. Making your own trail in 12″ deep snow is no treat. Yet when you get a mile track down and start skiing a few loops there is great beauty being up on skis. It is also a lot less hard on the knees.
About a decade ago on one of these skiing mornings there was not a soul to be seen around the course. I skied about 5 miles and was turning back to the parking lot when I noticed a strange pattern in the snow about 50 meters away. There were no ski tracks leading into the pattern, which was shaped like a wagon wheel with spokes. There were about 6 spokes as I recall, and a line of tracks leading in one side of the circle and another line of tracks leading out the other side. Otherwise the ‘wagon wheel’ in the snow was not connected to any other type of trail in the newly fallen snow.
I decided to investigate and skiing closer to the wheel I began to wonder who had made the pattern in the snow. I had seen no human footprints the entire morning of skiing. It would have been heavy trucking through snow that deep. You would have seen a trail of footprints leading somewhere, either entering the golf course property at some point or commencing at a vehicle.
But there were no traces of human footprints anywhere. I skied up next to the deep track leading into the wagon wheel shape and noticed that the tracks in the trough were all made by coyotes. Coyote tracks.
A coyote ritual?
I skied round the wagon wheel shape (not disturbing it…) studying the tracks within the trough in the snow and saw absolutely no trace of human footprints. The trough itself was narrow enough for a coyote to pass but a human would have had to point their toes and keep their legs moving in a very straight line to avoid knocking divots out of the side of the track in the snow. I saw no divots. There were also no uneven points in the base of the track where human bootprints compressed the snow. It was just coyote prints. Everywhere you look.
But the coyote tracks did not veer off anywhere from the wagon wheel. There was not one solitary animal that took off on its own, the way you might think one would at some point in the snow.
Then the reason for the convergence on the center of the wagon wheel became clear. A Canada goose lay mostly eaten at the center.
There was a little blood around the goose and a fairly loose circle of tracks where the coyotes had spun in a circle while eating the goose.
It was mysterious. Had the coyotes carried the goose there and then eaten it? Or had they arrived when the goose was dying in the snow? Yet there were no goose tracks leading inward toward the wagon wheel either.
I stood there on my skis trying to figure out the scenario of the coyotes and the goose. We have seen many coyotes in my in-laws backyard over the years. We know they’re around because they have stood looking at us inside the house from the woods in the back property.
That didn’t help me figure out whether these coyotes were really smart or simply ran around in a set of human tracks until they covered up all traces of homo sapiens.
A haunting memory
So I arrived at the conclusion: the coyotes did this themselves.
That is what I chose to believe at the time, sort of on faith, but the experience and the physical evidence of those narrow snow troughs still vexes me. Haunts me in a way.
Because I know for sure there were no human beings or tracks around on that Christmas morning, especially that early in the morning. There were no footprints leading from the road around the fence and into the golf course. I checked. And no chance that a vehicle had parked in the lot, for there were no tire tracks to be seen.
I ran by that spot this morning where the coyotes had executed their wagon wheel ceremony and feasted on a goose. It still gave me a little chill.
Conversations (with myself, mostly)
Only a skiff of snow covered the ground this year. There were dozens of Canada geese wandering around the golf course on foot. They stopped and stared when I stopped to tie a shoe. I wished those geese could talk. Or I wish that those coyotes could tell me what their ritual was all about. Because it has mystified me all these years, and mystifies me still.
Unsolved and accepted
And one must accept there are not going to be answers for everything. Some things you have to take on some sort of faith, even if they don’t really provide you any life lessons, or directed answers.
Sometimes it is just a wagon wheel of coyote tracks around a slaughtered goose in the snow. We aren’t meant to know the source of the scene, or the outcome. Nature speaks and we listen, but the answer is of a different type than we have come to expect. Yet it is a good answer still. ”
“You don’t know everything. And you probably never will.”
It may seem like a strange thing to say, but I think that realization is a great gift on Christmas Day. Some things really are best left a mystery.