Tracks inscribed on snow by unseen animals offer tantalizing multilayered puzzles.
Jigsaw puzzles, crosswords, Sudoku and Rubik’s Cubes all have devoted fans. How to explain the appeal of these puzzles? An internet search suggests that solving puzzles allows us to relax, briefly to forget worldly cares, with the carrot being the “aha!” moments when the puzzles are solved.
Deeper explanations propose that we engage with puzzles because of our human desire to find patterns and build meaning.
The puzzles that appeal to me aren’t done indoors on a kitchen table or from the comfort of an easy chair. I enjoy solving nature’s puzzles, and in winter that means animal tracking. Tracks inscribed on snow by unseen animals offer tantalizing multilayered puzzles.
An obvious puzzle to solve is the identity of the track maker. Various clues include the length and the width of a footfall, the number of toes, the distance from one footfall to another, and the tracks’ pattern.
Answering broad questions can also help with identification: What is the habitat? Certain mammals – mink for example – are seldom far from water. What animals are found in the area? Martens, mink relatives with similar tracks, are found in Algonquin Park, but not in Headwaters. What animals are active in winter? Groundhogs and chipmunks, for example, are not, unless it gets very warm.
Cracking the ID of the track maker is a satisfying moment, but piecing together clues found along the trail will help you solve other puzzles. You might discover what the animal ate or where its den is. You might be able to discern whether the animal was unhurried or moving fast. Might it have been chasing prey? Or conversely, trying to outrun a predator?
Below are some tracks to puzzle over. Scroll down to see the answers. And for more puzzle pleasure take a winter’s walk!