The fox squirrel's bushy red tail trailed straight out behind him as he scampered across the hard frozen snow. I spotted it crossing a large, open hayfield in the middle of the day. From a distance, the large red-orange squirrel looked like a miniature red fox. It didn't seem to fear being vulnerable and out in the open, and it occasionally stopped to check out some weeds that were sticking out of the snow. This time of year, there is a lot of competition for weed seeds among mice, voles, deer, turkey and most of the winter birds. Fox squirrels are wanderers and often venture out in search of food.
There were only three mourning doves at the bird feeders in October. There were seven in November, eleven in December, and now the flock has grown to 28 of these lovely birds of peace. They flock together nearly every morning to snap up tiny pieces of cracked corn on the ground. I'm hoping that a few more pairs of doves stay around for spring and summer. I love their early morning mourning calls: cooah, coo, coo, coo.
As I carried in an armload of firewood, I noticed a large, soaring bird at the far end of the valley. It was an eagle. After I put the wood in the house, I grabbed the camera and hustled back outside in case the eagle was still there. She was. I wished she would fly over the house and when she did, I snapped her picture as she passed overhead. I thanked her for being so cooperative and waved goodbye as she drifted down the valley.
Last week, rain melted the snow that covered the marsh ponds, then froze again later in the week, turning the ice a light copper color, the same color as the dried cattails at the edge of the pond. I'm not really sure why the ice was such a pretty color, but it's something I don't see all the time. My good friends Dan and Wanda tell met that these ponds are good for ice skating now.
The weather warmed early in the week and the little opossum ventured out at night to find something to eat. His tracks told me that he had been to the compost pile and the bird feeders. He looks pretty fit, so he's doing okay so far, but there is still a ways to go before the spring thaw.
Some hungry turkeys have discovered a field of corn shocks that were made by an Amish farmer. The clever turkeys have spotted a few ears of corn on some of the dried stalks and quickly pick the dry kernels off the cobs. A few bluejays patiently wait at the edge of the woods for the turkeys to leave so they can clean up what's left.
I love driving slowly along country roads taking in the beautiful landscape. The small valley farms are so picturesque, framed by these Kickapoo mountains and fresh water streams. Generations of farm families have learned from this land. To them, this will always be Home. The children raised on these farms will always know what it's like to live in the Kickapoo Valley.
It was a cold Sunday morning at 6 a.m. My trusty old thermometer registered minus ten degrees. The only birds I saw while driving two miles to Viola were a pair of colorful rooster pheasants. To me it was a sure sign of spring, because the two frisky birds were standing on the snow, eye to eye. I watched them for a while from a distance as they tried to back each other down, often jumping at each other with wings flapping and spurs raking. It was a fight worth watching, because there's a lot at stake. To the victor goes the spoils, and the pretty pheasant hens are the prize. As the males put on a good show, I kicked myself for leaving the camera at home.
I spotted more new spring green-ness Wednesday morning on the south side of Organic Valley's headquarters. There among the snow and dried leaves were the green shoots of daffodils under the windows. It's a warm spot where the ground probably hasn't frozen. Though it's a little early, they are truly a sign of the promises of spring.
I watched the sun set behind the trees up on the ridge Sunday night. I'm always reminded of how beautiful some of these simple moments can be. It was the perfect ending to a cold winter day, and I was grateful for it.
A pair of cardinals sat patiently in the apple tree by the house. I knew they were waiting for me to throw some sunflower seed out on the snow for them. Seeing the male and female together made me wonder when I'd hear the male's first spring song. It tells me that February is nearly gone and the days will get warmer.
The cardinals have been together in a single flock all winter. Now they start to pair up with the hint of love in the air. Signs of spring are here. We just have to take a moment to find them. Give yourself a chance to see and hear the life around you by pausing just one moment at a time to experience the coming of spring.
All art ©2013 Organic Valley
The landscape you mentioned is indeed the Mississippi Bluffs, which are unique to the coulee region of SW Wisconsin. They are sandstone bluffs that overlook the big river and are just as prominent here in the Kickapoo Valley, but the word bluffs is not used as frequently when you get further away from the Mississippi.
Some folks call these elevations here ďhills,Ē but I think theyíre a bit too big to be hills. I like to think of them as small mountains. You can see hills pretty much anywhere, but the Kickapoo Valley is far too beautiful to compare with anywhere else, so the word mountain puts an exclamation point on how nice it is here. Does a hillbilly live in the mountains or in the hills? I may prefer to call these large hills, mountains, but I donít mind being called a hillbilly.
Sure is good to hear from you down in flat old Chicago. Glad you decided to keep in touch with us back home.
All my best to you, Julie N.
So glad you like the cardinal picture, and it flatters me that you wrote to tell me. Hope you enjoy whatís ahead on our next walk Down Natureís Trail.
Good to hear from you, Millie.
Yes, there sure is something special about that cardinal red, especially in the spring. That poppa cardinal almost seems to glow at times, much more so than he did all winter. Just when you think a bird couldnít be any more beautiful, itís spring. The black and white picture turns to vibrant color.
The red heads of the red-belled, hairy and downy woodpeckers also seem to have a striking new sheen to them. They are feeling the tug of spring at their hearts. The males have been so inspired as to start their territorial drumming.
Iím writing to you from near Viola, in the heart of the Kickapoo Valley of southwest Wisconsin. Viola is six miles downstream from La Farge where Organic Valleyís headquarters is located. Both are small towns on the Kickapoo River with populations of around 650 to 700.
The nearby Mississippi River is my favorite place to watch the lovely white egrets, but Iíll bet they are just as pretty in Kelseyville, California.
Really nice to hear from you, Ellen. Thank you.
Sounds like the pictures really got your attention. Ha! Thank you so much for letting me know. It means a lot.
I liked your mourning dove memory. They sing in the morning and evening because they are in love and they wanted to let you know.
Good to know you will join me for a walk down Natureís trail each week. Together, weíll share Natureís beauty.
You couldnít have said any nicer words to me. Nature has warmed my heart my whole life and to know that itís being passed to others is all I would ever ask for. Iíve always said that to have Nature touch your heart is the greatest gift in life. Thank you for letting me know Iím right.
Sounds like these Kickapoo mountains have touched your heart. So glad to hear from you, Sandra.
P.S. I donít know where Keizer is. Sorry!
It just comes Naturally to me, but thereís only one of me. Please feel free to let me know of any interesting happenings over your way. I can always use a little help from my friends. Good to hear from you, Laurie.
I love that you love these photos. Thanks for the encouragement!
Yeah, the camera pretty much goes everywhere I go. I wish Iíd had this camera for the past 45 years. When I think of all the things I could have caught in the lens over the years...
Good to hear from you, Charles.