Winter Lake Walk
The winter has not held back on snow in my area. Several winter storms have passed through and dumped well over 8 inches in a few days. This combined with a week long business trip has put a serious damper on my ability to get out and about. However, just prior to the winter storm and my trip I was able to carve out an hour or so and got out to a nearby nature preserve on Lake Monroe. Even though I’ve lived in the area all my life, I’d not had a chance to see this particular spot before. Lake Monroe is host to a bald eagle program which has been incredibly successful over the past 25 years. Though I had been fortunate enough to see one last summer, I’d hoped that I might be lucky in the limited time I had and catch sight of one of them. Driving out the day was bright, blue, and cold.
After getting out of my car a great and steady Winter stillness met me. I was alone in the parking lot. The lake, frozen and locked for several weeks, offered no signs of life to someone with a hurried eye. Getting my gear and moving away from my car, I did what I normally do, I stopped and waited. Under the edge of the tree line, I was warm in my multiple layers, hat, and hunter’s gloves while the trees broke the wind. It took around five minutes but I began to hear birdsong. Then, zipping over the parking lot, I picked up a downy woodpecker and after that a small flock of juncos chased each other through the bare limbs by the shore. Sounds and sights of life began appearing all around me.
I equate stepping into the woods to being the same as jumping into a pond. Even more so in the dead of winter. With no leaves to buffer sound, a heavy footstep or even a loud whisper can carry for several acres in the cold air. Though you may not realize it, the sudden presence of a human into a woodland after hours or days of natural silence and rhythm is akin to tossing a large stone into a placid pond. It takes awhile for the ripples to slow down. If you don’t take the time for those ripples to slow and to calibrate yourself to the woodland there is a good chance you’ll miss a considerable amount. Even five or ten minutes can make a sizable difference.
I hiked the water’s edge for awhile and then moved up the ridge while following a set of old coyote tracks in the snow. These led me to a much more well worn path which showed considerable traffic coming and going from a downed maple tree, a den dug under the root ball. The den was in full use that much was certain. One of my goals is to get a series of good coyote shots so I mentally marked the place and promised myself to get it into my GPS.
Numerous calls of chickadees led me through the woods on the top of the ridge line where I came across an old road track. I finally found them zipping amongst the young hardwoods and they showed no hesitation at my arrival. Within minutes of my arrival and with my only movements being to raise my camera, they were racing past me and landing in the upper limbs a few yards away. Eight or more Chickadees in total were moving through the area and the woods were full of their calling back and forth.
I watched them for awhile and then, regrettably, saw that my time was nearly up. I headed back to the car, moving down the old road and saw in the snow that it was still very much in use by the above mentioned coyotes, several deer, and, for a short while, a rabbit. Nature takes all things back eventually.
As you know I am a fan of survival, of perseverance. Near the parking lot I saw a small thing which, in the habit of small things, made me late. As the old road opened up to the new patches of light green lichen growing on the southeast hillside of rock caught my eye.
This patch was doing quite well on the rocky shelf and the image of their green clusters like islands in a sea of white snow made me smile. On the miniature scale, I was reminded of a coral reef and how similar the two looked. Lichen are a type of fungus and are able to grow in all forms of environments, from tundra to deserts. They do not have roots but instead draw their nourishment through their surfaces and can go into extended periods of stasis which allows them to survive in drastic conditions. They are sometimes the first type of life in an area and by their long age, growth and decomposition can form the first layer of soil for other seeds to gain nourishment. Among a host of other tools, they are one of Nature’s “first steps.” In short, they’re survivors. When taken the time to appreciate them, they are also beautiful.
My walk finished I headed back to parking lot. A woman in an old pick-up truck with its cab full of her and three terriers sat and looked out over the lake. We waved to each other, two nature lovers greeting each other on a cold winter’s day. I scanned the lake one more time for a raptor or, preferably, an eagle but there was no activity. I stood in the same silence which had greeted me for a few minutes, soaking it all in. Then, I unloaded my gear, clambered back into my car and headed back into town.