Quiet power of nature
You are bundled against the numbing cold of the recent days of sub-freezing temperatures. The outside has called its siren song again. And you have gone outside to see what nature and its shallow mantle of white have used to lure you away from a spot next to a warm radiator and overstuffed chair.
It’s quiet. You’ve used your college education to find a time when the wicked wind of winter has gone somewhere else. Even the trees are not brushing together and making the creaking sounds only they can.
At first, it appears nothing alive is about . . . or above ground and not hibernating. But be observant and keep listening.
You’ve entered a forested area where a tiny rivulet of water creeps through and animals are known to butt heads with winter’s ever-jousting ways.
Trees aren’t being buffeted. The taller locusts, ash and hackberries stand like sentries beside the little-used trail. Cedars, pines and younger oaks provide a mid-level, defensive fortress against unseen invaders from the hurry-up outside world.
Nearer the ground are brambles, honeysuckle, sassafras and redbud trees.
If you listen carefully the barely audible sounds of forest life surviving in the winter can be heard.
The few birds search for seeds, dried berries, remnants of weeds that once had bright morsels and nuts that were only half-eaten by squirrels and such. Foxtails and their fingers of seeds are residents of the edges of the wooded area.
This place can be home to raccoon, rabbit, possum, the occasional wandering fox and foraging crows.
Walnuts and chestnuts drop their bounty. Hazelnuts or maples have sailed their largesse to the leaf-covered ground.
The chatter of at least one squirrel announcing your presence can be heard in the distance.
Deer can find honeysuckle to give them sustenance. And they nose through the ground cover seeking nuts and other browse that can help them.
Just a short ways into the forested area there is a small and shallow pool of water in a clearing that catches and holds the rains for the creatures we want to see. The pool is frozen solid through these days when the temperature never reaches even 32 degrees.
The animals wouldn’t be here without some regular source of water . . . and just ahead is the tiny stream that looks like nothing but ice but actually has moving water under a frozen layer just above the slowly coursing rill.
Footprints are all around. The birds have been here. So have the small mammals not hibernating through the clenching grip of the cold.
Parts of the forest are owned by thickets of shrubs, wineberry bushes, thorny roses given life by multi-flora roses planted nearby and honeysuckle that still has its leaves.
The thickets hide the rabbits and the skunks. Sometimes weasels can find hollow spots in the smaller trees and their limbs.
Owls know the haunts and habits of the mice and voles that move at night.
As you reach the other side of the nature-owned area, you’ve discovered the woods to be more alive than any outside place has a right to be in the 15-degree weather.
Eyes are watering; nose is dripping uncontrollably; ears sting as if swarmed by summer bees; lips are chilled and toes rebel against the cold.
But you’ve been outside to visit with nature . . . and now you have a refuge where warmth and some comfort make it appear your sanity hasn’t left completely.