[My monthly column for the newspaper was due today, and I was really struggling to find a topic. Here's what I turned in.]
Out the Back Door
I’ve had no astounding adventures this past month. I’m as willing as the next person to stay inside when the fields and roads are covered with ice. I discovered about 25 years ago that falling down wasn’t nearly as much fun as it had been 35 years ago.
So, this afternoon I’m headed out the back door to find something to write about. Perhaps I should tell you about the morning a couple of days ago when the snowflakes came down thick and soft, muffling every sound so thoroughly that I nearly didn’t hear the train go by. Every tortuous black branch of the sumac was lined with an icing of white, and the dusted pines bowed with the combined weight of a million soft flakes.
Yesterday, of course, was a different story! All softness was swept away by the 25 mph winds, which glazed the snow into a fragile crust. I broke through with every step, even on snowshoes. Great puffs of snow were lifted from the trees and hurled into the sky like smoke signals, and the wind howled across the ridge. It was all I could do to remain standing!
But today? Today the sun is shining, and the wind is not blowing. The dog and I step out the back door and head for the Pere Marquette River. Our adventures are of the familiar kind. Animals whose tracks almost everyone recognizes have been out. Rabbits and mice have ventured from beneath thick bushes to leave their distinctive marks. The deer have traveled the farthest, pawing deep furrows in the snow. Stark crow tracks march across the field before disappearing abruptly where the bird took to the air.
Maggie and I reach the bluff above a backwater of the river– one of my favorite spots from which to contemplate the world– and note that the ice is not yet solid even on those shallow fingers of water. Aspen trunks, which don’t seem remarkable most of the year, stretch long golden fingers into the blue sky. Dark hemlock and rustling beech line the steep hill above the quiet bay.
As we return from the river, with the sun at my back, I can feel its warmth through my parka, and my shadow races ahead of me as we follow our homeward tracks. Every tiny hillock throws a long shadow and I see miniature landscapes of ever-changing geology. A dried and broken thistle stalk is silhouetted against the white background, imitating an oriental painting, or perhaps a many-headed dragon! All too soon, I'm back inside the door, stripping off my snowpants, and hoping not to peel off the joys of the afternoon along with the nylon.
White clouds against blue sky on a calm and sunny winter day? Evidence of varieties of interesting wildlife so numerous that we consider them common? The ability to access all these without ever turning a car key? Perhaps this is astounding enough.
|See Quiet Backwater for the same location as the picture with Maggie in it, but in April|