Open Winter?

I love the weekends where I can get up early and head out into the woods right at first light. During winter I even enjoy those mornings when it is bone chilling cold, I’m talking about those mid-winter mornings after a cloudless night, a cold that numbs the fingertips through the gloves and makes the nostrils stick together. That type of morning really makes you hustle to keep the blood pumping. This was not one of those mornings.

Today is January 7th, and I woke early this morning looking forward to Detox session with Mother Nature. As I headed out my door this morning the ambiance was more reminiscent of a mid-March morning. I won’t call it warm, but it certainly didn’t feel like a winter morning. I decided to head into a woodlot that I don’t normally hike through for a change, and as the first light of the day found its way into the forest I noticed the woods were crawling with critters.

Not too long after snapping the photo above, my first crunching steps in the woods flushed a Ruffed Grouse. Once I had full daylight I decided to stop and take things in for a minute, I could see Fox and Gray squirrels in almost every direction. I could hear the Tufted Titmouse and the Cardinal calling. The brush to my right was alive with Chickadees chipping away to each other while foraging amongst the branches. A Downy Woodpecker was working diligently on rooting some unfortunate bug out of the bark of the dead Ash tree directly behind me. As I look down the trail ahead of me I could see a rabbit working his way back towards the thick brush. The sights and sounds on this January morning all remind me of spring, but I know that’s not the case.

This certainly has been a strange winter so far, any cold that we have experienced has left just as quickly as it came. Snow has been all but nonexistent, and it seems that if we get a dusting, it’s gone by the next afternoon. My Grandfather has been gone for years now but I’m reminded of how he sometimes talked about an “open winter”. As a kid I always found it intriguing when he would tell me about going all winter long without snow. He said that he had recollection of this happening several times over the course of his life.

I don’t recall a winter in my lifetime in which we had no snow for the entier winter, but I do recall one winter back in the late 70’s in which we didn’t get snow until very late in the winter. A couple memories stick in my mind from that winter. This somewhat open winter of my recollection was not lacking for cold temperatures, and I recall the ice on our pond was very thick, but it was also crystal clear. I can remember walking along the shallow areas of the pond peering down through to the mucky bottom. On one afternoon I remember walking along on the ice looking down at giant pond lily roots on the bottom while a muskrat went swimming right past me under the ice. Years later while reading some of the writings of Aldo Leopold; it was amusing to see that he had documented a similar experience while out on some clear ice as well. The other memory that sticks with me was going up north one weekend and seeing all the cars covered with dust from the dirt roads. It just seemed odd to see the clouds of dust billowing up from behind the cars as they went barreling down the dirt roads. Something that was commonplace during summer seemed so out of place during the winter.

Who knows what the remainder of winter 2011-12 will bring for us, but I certainly hope that some snow will be a part of the picture before too long. I have to believe, based on all the forest activity that I witnessed this morning that the creatures of the forest would be happier if winter would just continue to give them a little taste for a day or two, and then revert back to this spring-like mediocrity.

Mark ~

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