A walk with three toes


A winter walk in Lastingham

Instead of taking my usual route I followed tracks in the snow.  Overnight there had been a deep frost so I crunched as I walked.  A clear, winding set of footprints marked the way.  These were pheasant imprints and I took its walk.

Pheasant footprints in the snow

It became difficult at times, on hands and knees, in and out of the hedgerow and at the streamside they were lost.  I crossed the icy water of Lastingham beck and searched the far bank for evidence of my guiding three toes.  I didn’t find any, so made my way back at a march to warm near numb hands and feet.

Frost on a fence post

Frosted reeds

I wondered what  snow and ice felt like to a bird’s foot.   Bird feet are covered with scales and have very little cold-damageable tissue in them.  They are mostly bone and sinew. What a thing it must be to be able to draw your foot up and under downy feathers!

sheep skull in the cold

Following tracks in the snow

Lastingham Beck in frost

My geese have a very sophisticated adaptation that keeps their feet from freezing. Rete mirabile — Latin for “wonderful net” — is a fine, netlike pattern of arteries that interweaves blood from a bird’s heart with the veins carrying cold blood from its feet and legs. The system cools the blood so the little blood that goes down to the feet is already cold, so they don’t lose much heat. The small amount that goes to the feet is likely just enough to keep the feet from freezing.

Goose footprints in the snow

I love to lose myself on a walk before work – it seems in a natural way to open the imaginative floodgates and ease the flow.













  1. Comment by ellen abbott:

    I’m headed outdoors and feeling a little guilty because I should be in the shop.

    • Reply by Jennifer:

      That little guilt will soon disappear, once you’re out, and you’ll return to the shop much renewed!

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