I’ve learned a new word…and fly it like a new kite.

                    ~Ralph Fletcher, Ordinary Things

Look,” she whispered, pointing to a tiny trail in the snow. It looked as if someone might have dragged a slender stick from one tree trunk to the next, about six feet away.  “This is very rare.  Someone from the subnivean zone surfaced this morning.”

Eight seventh graders and I hovered in a circle as Camille, our naturalist guide for a field trip to the Paul Smiths Visitors Interpretive Center, went on to describe the mouse tracks that stretched from tree to tree.  The kids loved how tiny the tracks were.  They loved the story of the mouse disappearing again after just a few feet.  They fell in love with the little guy, even though they never actually saw him. 

I fell in love with the word.  Subnivean.  It just sounds sneaky, doesn’t it?  The subnivean zone.  Who knew that there was a whole network of tunnels and rooms and caves under our snowshoes?  It’s a world inhabited by mice and shrews, moles and voles, and insects hiding out in our sub-zero North Country winters.  I imagine them all hatching conspiracies down there.  Subnivean. 

Of course, I immediately went home and googled it.  And look what I found.

An entire BOOK about the subnivean zone!  The author, Bernd Heinrich, teaches at the University of Vermont, too.

I bought Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival yesterday. I go back and and forth between devouring it — with its amazing outdoor stories and gorgeous sketches — and rationing it, stopping after each chapter so I don’t run out too soon.  I love great nature writing, and this book is one of the best I’ve read in this genre.

If you’re looking for me, I’ll be hanging out in the subnivean zone.

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