We've almost come "full circle" now that the winter solstice is near. These late November and December days are the shortest and the nights are the longest of the year.
Short winter days mess with my inner clock, plus it's hard to adjust to the time change, which is more troublesome to me now than at any other time. In July, I don't come inside until it's nearly dark, around 9 p.m. I'll turn back the covers between 10 and 11 and sleep soundly until 5:30 a.m. When it's dark at 4:30 p.m., my instincts tell me it's nearly time to go to bed, and yet it won't be bedtime for another 5 hours. If I go to bed too early, I'll be up at 3 in the morning, and it won't get light for another three hours. In winter, I become a clock-watcher and force myself to stay up 'til nine. Humans are the only creatures on earth whose lives are regulated by a clock, with the exception of working dairy cows!
The valley becomes much quieter in winter. A summer day fills my ears with the sounds of life around me, both day and night. This time of year, I often find myself listening for anything that sounds familiar, especially during long, quiet dark nights. Other than the call of an owl now and then, there really aren't any vocal night birds. Just to hear anything in the night is an event that makes me listen a little closer. A barred owl's who-awwww, a screech owl's trill or coyote songs may be all that breaks the silence of a winter night.
The first half of the week was a little warmer than the last, and the foggy mornings along the Kickapoo River are a beautiful sight. The peaceful, foggy landscape helps set my pace for the day, reminding me to slow down and, like the fog, just drift along.
After spending the long night in a cattle barn, a flock of starlings are out and about in the early morning. Like all birds in winter, they are very hungry and search the short grass near the barn for bits of spilled grain. I've learned to respect starlings over the years for what they are and how they watch out for each other. Even though they always seem to be close to human habitation, they never trust humans. Starlings are also conversational and always seem to be talking to each other in a broad array of sounds and notes. Their coal black summer plumage has been replaced by feathers spotted in yellow-gold, giving them a colorful appearance in the winter. I pay more attention to them now than in the summer, probably because there are so few birds to watch now. Most people don't care much for starlings, but then beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
What I thought were a couple of turkeys at the far end of a pasture turned out to be something altogether different. At 500 yards, I could only detect some movement. I snapped a couple of quick pictures, and then zoomed them up on the camera. To my surprise, I saw the remains of a deer left behind by hunters. The movement I caught was a large female red-tailed hawk who was dining on venison. It was nice of the hunters to share with the other wild birds and animals. It's recycling the natural way.
By the end of the week, the mornings were colder, cold enough to put a thin sheet of ice over the ponds and backwaters. With less open water to float on, many of the Canada geese in the area have either left or are using the river. Each night, the geese fly off to scour their favorite corn field for harvest leavings. With no snow on the ground, they have no trouble filling their crops with bits of shell corn. They love to spend the day relaxing on the shallow marsh pond. They are always so pretty to watch.
I live in a small north/south running valley, so I can't see the sunset unless I drive up to the ridge in the evening. That's what I do a few times each month, but generally I enjoy the sunset colors from home each night. I never take for granted the lovely colors the sun makes, even from down here in the valley. At sunset Thursday night, the moon was high above the southeast end of the valley. The moon is a valuable part of my life here in this small valley and gives me something new to see from my back door each month.
The leafless landscape south of Organic Valley headquarters is quite beautiful, even without the color green. As I looked at a rock outcropping about a mile away, two blaze orange spots caught my eye. It turned out to be two hunters in blaze orange hunting garb. It's amazing how a little unnatural color can stand out so much in the middle of nature's beautiful colors.
The pigeon has a new friend, one that he can probably relate with a little better than me: a mourning dove.
My thoughts returned to the pigeon when I spotted a pile of pretty cardinal feathers near the garden. I knew there was a Cooper's hawk in the area. I hadn't seen the hawk, but I knew he was around by the way the songbirds have been acting. I hope the pigeon is keeping an eye out for danger.
It feels good to have more firewood neatly stacked near the house. It's a sign of comfort to come.
All art ©2013 Organic Valley
Iím so sorry, Julie, but I canít tell why I didnít receive your letter. I always respond to everyone who writes to me. Must be the ghost in the machine. The good news is that this letter got throughóthank you very much. Chicago is a world of difference from La Crosse. Iím sure life is much faster-paced in your setting.
Red-tailed hawks rarely ever get the opportunity to eat small birds. They simply arenít fast enough to catch them. There must be some other reasons why you arenít seeing songbirds where you live.
Itís good to know you enjoy my columns, and I hope you continue to join me each week for a walk Down Natureís Trail.
Thanks for the nice letter, Julie.