Early this morning, I filled the black oil sunflower seed feeder before heading off to work. Upon arriving home, I noticed the snow covered walkway to the front stairs was completely trampled by tiny bird feet. I looked around, the whole area around the feeder, the paving stone at the bottom of the stairs, the path, and even a large portion of the driveway was covered in small bird prints. There were so many of them, tracks on top of tracks, that individual prints were completely indiscernible. Also, the black oil seed feeder is empty! The Goldfinch flock has definitely been here! When I finally came inside, my husband asked if I had seen all the bird tracks in the snow. He was amazed at how a group of small birds could make an area of snow look thoroughly trampled. Twenty or so tiny birds fluttering around non-stop for a few hours until the feeder is empty will do that. I imagine their twittering and rustling. I have not seen the flock yet, but they are obviously here.
This morning when looking out the front window to see the early birds on the feeder, there was a small drab dark olive colored bird with a wing bar. Oh cool! The winter Goldfinch flock is here!
Many years ago when I first saw a winter Goldfinch, I spent over an hour pouring through bird guides trying to figure out what it was. I unsatisfactorily settled on some sort of gnat-catcher because of its color and size. But many other factors did not fit, such as time of year and what it was eating. The mysterious birds stayed a few days and then left. Later in the spring, I saw more of them, but now they were in various stages of changing color into their summer plumage. Aha! Not gnat-catchers, but Goldfinches!
Every winter a flock shows up for a couple of days, cleans out the feeders every day they are here, then moves on to somewhere else. It is a joy to receive the annual visit of the winter Goldfinches. Spring is still a long way off, but these little birds know how to party in the bird world, even in sub-zero temperatures apparently. This morning there is only one little finch, but I suspect it will have plenty of friends very soon.
Walking up the hollow and back, a peaceful two mile walk that takes me up a narrow, twisting, steep one lane dirt road along a steep, narrow, rocky, plunging creek that empties into the bigger creek we live next to. The deep freeze of this winter has both creeks completely frozen over with fantastical ice formations. As I walked by an area where the creek runs wide, shallow, and flat for a few yards, I notice the ice is snow covered and down the middle of it is a line of foot prints in the snow. There are many animals active in these woods in January and I’ve seen numerous prints in the snow while walking here. I can not easily (or safely) get off the road and down to the creek to examine the prints, but from up here I am guessing deer. The line starts upstream a little ways and from the other side, the steps go around a couple of rocks and then head straight downstream until the flat area of creek slides downhill again where the prints disappear into the forest from whence they came. On the way home, I stop on the bridge over the larger creek where the road gets a little wider and turns to pavement. There I see several strings of tracks crossing the ice over the swimming hole. Coyote maybe, as they look dog like from the bridge, and I have heard them howling mournfully and yipping in the night recently. Where are they now, all those coyote and deer on this cold darkening evening? Do they hide in the woods and see me slip quietly past on the road, while I only see the impressions of where they used to be?
Walking up the hollow and back, sun setting on another cold winter day, I am completely fascinated by the ice. The creek is covered, completely in all but the fastest moving spots. Water has flowed over the ice coating and frozen into what looks like flow-stone inside a cave. Water has flowed over rocks and frozen in layers expanding until the rocks are covered with lumpy ice. Hues of blue, green, grey, purple, and white shimmer in the shadows of the weak setting sunlight, ice slipping, sliding, flowing, freezing, layers on layers, rippled and ruffled, sculpted into a frigid alien landscape. The sound of moving flowing water is muted and muffled by the layers of ice that can not tame the gurgling force of moving water. We have had several days where temperatures did not raise above single digits and several nights of negative temperatures. This deep freeze polar vortex winter has created a whole mystical frozen world where the creek used to be!
This morning Old Man Max Cat was sitting statuesque inches from the wood-stove, eyes half closed, soaking in the glowing warmth. I laid down on the rug and called to Lilly Cat to come do her fire dance. She came running downstairs and did three joyful laps around my prone form before settling into a fuzzy love pile nestled against my stomach, the fire warming her belly. Tiger Cat wandered by to see what everybody was up to and flopped down at my head, stretched his legs out long pawing at my nose and lips. We all stayed there basking in the fire light and heat when Shadow Cat delicately stepped around Tiger then sat opposite Max mirroring his posture, nose inches from the stove. What better way to spend some time on a cold blustery winter morning than to warm your bones next to a cozy wood-stove surrounded by contented cats!
Driving over the crest of a tall hill, the road drops steeply down and out of sight around a curve, a vista opens out across the valley, winter sunlight streams from a crystal blue sky, bare trees look black against the snow covered ground, their long thin grey shadows slanting across the forest floor. The horizon is dominated by a mountain ridge across the way, half way up there is a snow line, it reminds me of seeing snow line up high on summer trips through the Rockies in Colorado and of how snow line would oscillate up and down the distant peaks the winter I spent in Portland, Oregon all those years ago. Reminiscing startles to a halt when science kicks in, how can I see a snow line when there is snow at my present elevation? I take a more scrutinizing look at the mountain ridge and realize that I am looking at probably a frost line or frozen precipitation line of some sort. Although there is snow cover all the way down in the valley floor, the trees up top are covered in a frozen layer that is gleaming white in the slanting winter sunshine. The trees below that elevation do not have a coating of ice or frost, so they are dark and black against the ground. Above there, all the branches are coated in a frosty icing, blending into the snow covered ground giving the illusion of a snow line. A visual representation of the temperature gradient as elevation changes! Mother Nature is freaking awesome!
Soft, purple light seeps out of the landscape, frozen air slowly and silently darkens into night, the snow covered ground seems faintly luminous purple blue against the darker infinite sky. A few tall black evergreen trees stand next to the picture window, their curving tapered bows draped with snow. I am sitting in the yoga room at the spa at the ski slope waiting for employee yoga to begin. Off to the side, up the hill, the main lodge stands awash in orange light like a halo where the lower slopes are lit up for night skiing. The snow guns are blasting forth man made snow, minuscule ice crystals that drift down on swirling air currents. A winds blows up, charging up the valley, across the dark parking lot, tree branches silhouetted against warm glow of house lights bounce and sway. The cascading stream of frozen crystals from the nearest snow gun billows upward in a faintly glowing orange spiral then disappears into the darkness above the reach of the ambient light. I see dark swirls of snow erupt from the shadowed ground filling the night with a angry pelting greyish cloud that throws itself against the trees and window panes. The dark evergreen bows thrash in the wind catapulting snow into the wind where it splatters against the window, a bombardment of tiny frozen ice shards. The hair on my arms tickles momentarily as the air pressure in the room flickers while the wind surrounds the building and then quickly moves past. A dark wind on a blustery night.
Dark grey sky hanging low just above the bare tree tops, cold air slushy with falling snow, sound is dampened and sluggish moving quietly and slowly through the thick frosty blue grey air. White snow looking looking purple and blue in the weak winter light falls heavily and thickly, covering the whole landscape in a fluffy frozen blanket of winter. A breath of wind breaths through, evergreen bows buck and jump as their burden of snow falls free cascading to the ground, then are silently covered once more as the snow falls from the amorphous low sky. Boundaries are blurred, sky, sir, and ground blend into one as the falling snow connects all in a soft silent frigid embrace.
This time of year, the bird feeders stay out, no pesky bears to destroy them in the night. The cats love it because at first light when our little feathered friends wake up and need sustenance after the long cold night, the feeders are waiting for them. The cats sit in the front window, whiskers twitching, tails swishing, eyes bright, haunches tense, and making mewing and clicking noises in the back of there throats. The birds and red squirrels taunt the cats too, by hanging out on the rocking chair backs not more than a few inches away, but an still endless eternity through the glass window pane. This morning there were about three inches of fresh snow piled up in the feeder tops, the air must by completely calm as every surface is piled delicately with pure white glittering snow, ready to topple and drift to earth at the slightest disturbance. I can see every tiny spot where a dainty chick-a-dee or junco has perched. There are birds sized indents on the porch railing, the feeder stand, and the branches of the shrubs in front of the porch. The birds are flitting around, noisy and busy, every burst of wings sending a few more snow flakes on their way toward the ground. Its almost like a dance, twittering birds, fresh floating snow flakes, and cold blue early morning light seeping into the world.
Standing on the porch, twilight dusk filling all the shadows to darkness. The air is still, trees are calm, the world seems to be holding its breath against the penetrating cold. I stand and listen, the only sound beyond my own heart beat and breathing is a muffled constant soft hushed hissing sound, like white noise. I realize it is the flowing water in the creek muted by the covering of snow and ice. The water flows all winter under the ice, but it too is silenced by the oppressive cold. I stand and listen to the impressive silence, no creaking of frozen branches, no musical tones of wind chimes, no soft skittering sounds of small burrowing rodents or wandering night creatures. Nothing but complete silence. It is breath taking, this numbing cold silence, while the brilliant stars come out and twinkle in my eyes one by one.