Spring officially arrived one month ago today. Of course, that was just a date on the calendar and it doesn’t mean Spring is here to stay, nor Winter has departed for good. I mention this because last Friday we had an inch or two of the white stuff. You know very well that Mother Nature, being the assertive gal she is, was not going to let the Winter season slip out of her clutches without putting up a good fight. The snow we had last Wednesday morning was merely a tease. I returned from my walk, having taken the car for a wee spin to the Park, when the flakes began to fly in earnest just as I pulled into the garage. Snow this late in April here in Southeast Michigan is not unheard of. It is more of a fluke than the norm and once the sun’s rays were out, by day’s end, both “snowfalls” were history.
Today’s post is about a walk taken during that brutally cold week in mid-February. Though I walked every day that week, I only used the camera one morning and these are the shots and the narrative from that time.
Munch, Crunch, Creak, Crack and … Clack.
Because I took the bus to my job in Downtown Detroit for many decades, my closets and drawers are bulging with cold-weather clothing, lots of warm woolens and polar fleece garb, all which I predict should last me the rest of my life. There were many days I stood in the freezing cold and/or a snowstorm waiting on the bus … except for my toes, I usually stayed comfortable.
Lookin’ back …
During this entire week of February 17th, there was no snow, so I didn’t think twice about suiting up and heading to my favorite nature nook each morning. On Friday the 21st, I even made a pit stop first at Dingell Park. I was in search of eagles, but found only many shivering seagulls, whose photos I shared in back-to-back posts last month. Incredibly, Southeast Michigan was enjoying four days of sunshine in a row, the first time this had happened since July 19th, so I wrote that fact down to use whenever I prepared this post.
It was just me, myself and I.
So, in the dead of Winter, during that frigid week, day after day I was the only walker brave enough to suit up and stroll along the perimeter path at Council Point Park, and each morning, as I stepped onto that asphalt, the silence was almost deafening. On this particular morning, the coldest day yet, I figured I would not only be alone in my thoughts, but likely no critters, furry or feathered, would stray from the cozy confines of their respective nests to greet me, so I would be leaving peanut offerings on the picnic table for them to enjoy later.
In the dead silence, I noticed even the little bugger, a/k/a the Red-Bellied Woodpecker, was tucked away somewhere, as his squeaky and squawky noises and tree drilling were strangely absent from these morning walks. No ducks paddled and preened; not a single goose flew overhead, nor dined on the dead grass. The Park sure was not a happenin’ place.
I had my camera in my pocket each day and decided I would only pull it out if something struck my fancy. I ended up taking about 25 photos on this day where the sun dipped in and out of the clouds, (that “ineffective sunshine” as the meteorologists call it). I’ll tell you that those rays didn’t help with the 12F real feel temps with a 15 mph wind stinging my face, the only part of my body exposed to the elements.
On that day, things were strangely eerie …
The quiet was deafening … if that makes sense. And then I heard it … a faint rustling which kind of creeped me out just a bit. The wind was clipping along, and stirred the dead leaves and seeds which I noted were wiggling on their stems – whew, no worries that I was NOT alone!
Even these frozen orange berries, which added a touch of color to the dull landscape, similarly brushed up against each other, thus making a slight pinging noise. The sound reminded me of Clackers, a game we played back in the day with a string and two balls that clinked and clacked against one another.
So I strolled along, my bag of peanuts at the ready, should my peanut pals scope me out from their high perches on this bone-chilling morning. I looked up, hoping to see a squirrel or two peering out of a nest, so I could wiggle the bag to entice them to the ground. The plastic bag, stiff from the cold, made a rattling noise but there were no visitors.
Rise and shine – perhaps someone put the coffee on?
It seemed that by my second time around the “loop” there was a realization by the squirrels and birds that “we’d better get our furry and feathered butts out to greet Linda, the only human tripping along the perimeter path these days – let’s send the Welcoming Committee.”
On my second time around, I pulled out the camera and propped the bag up in my pocket, trying out my skills at being ambidextrous to dole out peanuts and click away, the latter task, a tad more difficult, given the two pair of heavy gloves I was wearing and fingers that were beginning to feel like popsicles.
I kept walking on – finally a sign of life, the sound of the woodpecker at his favorite tree. You’ll recall I recently did a post featuring this Red-Bellied Woodpecker who has decimated this tall tree. He is always “on duty” searching for grubs and drilling into this tree. Well, the resident woodpecker spied me and shot me a rather defiant look as he continued dinging away. He posed for a split second, setting himself up for a picture. I snapped, but the camera rebelled just a little due to the cold, but I got the shot and he returned to the task at hand. In the silence of the morn, once he resumed drilling, the sound reverberated like a jackhammer two blocks away. He looked down at me after I offered peanuts, but he continued his search for freeze-dried grubs … well suit yourself Bud.
I kept walking and there was another noise, a different type of noise which stopped me in my tracks. A Mallard duck suddenly dropped out of the sky and onto the Creek surface. He landed with a thud and a slight skid on the ice. Perhaps Mr. Mallard didn’t anticipate the Creek was frozen over, and the ice surely left him with a frosty bottom. Momentarily that Mallard sat on the ice and I worried he was hurt and I resisted the urge to call out “yo, are you alright over there?” After a moment’s time, the duck flew over to the cement landing to nurse its bruised backside (and feelings).
A whole lotta creakin’, crackin’ was going on.
In the still of the morning, the unmistakable sound of the ice creaking and cracking at the shoreline was also infiltrating my now, near-silent stroll. I stole over to the shoreline and saw the ice, crusted and banked up in some places, a mirror-like sheen in other places. I stopped to listen to the noise …
… and it was then I noticed that the branches of the bent and off-kilter tree were subtly scraping the surface of the ice. Each time the wind blew, a noise like chalk upon a blackboard echoed through the passageway.
Well, I looked around for something else to take photos of, since both hands were free with no birds or squirrels coming to call. I was horrified to see mounds of dead shad, some buried in an icy grave where water had lapped up along the edge and frozen in place. Ugh! This is not uncommon during brutally cold weather where the oxygen is lacking once aquatic plants die off beneath the icy surface. Luckily, the frogs and turtles bury themselves deep beneath the Creek and generally survive – the fish without oxygen, not so much.
Finally the critters began to stir …
Just as I decided this third time on the perimeter path had better be the charm, otherwise I’d just deposit peanuts on the picnic table as I usually do, then head home, the Park suddenly came alive.
Parker may like to think his moniker should be: “Parker, the Pulse of the Park” but truth be told, he is one of the quietest of the Council Point Park inhabitants. Despite his cute antics like shameless begging and stomping on my shoe tip with his front paws to get my attention, he is generally well behaved. The only time you hear squirrels is if they give a distress call, or occasionally, some chitter-chatter when they are playing hide-and-seek. Occasionally they race around and crash into each other, just like a couple of cartoon characters and you expect to see stars hovering over their dazed looks. During mating time, there is some fancy footwork running up and down the trees and the flinging of bodies from one branch to another to escape another squirrel in pursuit. It is amusing to watch how they spring forth and land on their feet – they are quite the acrobats. I figure their angry chatter would loosely translate to “no, I’m not in the mood right now” or “maybe later, ‘cuz Linda’s here with peanuts right now.” There are also the loud squeals or protests when one squirrel misappropriates a peanut from the other’s pile of nuts and half-tailed Stubby is famous for doing so. I often chastise him for his actions, but, like any youngster, my words fall on deaf ears. Yes, sadly there are bullies even in the squirrel world.
On quiet mornings, I’ll hear, long before I see, the descent of a squirrel from its nest, headfirst to ground level. With no other noise around, there is the discernible sound of their claws as they click, click, click against the bark once the nests’ occupants are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and ready for breakfast.
Munchin’ and crunchin’.
I fed the squirrels and watched their long, furry tails curled over the top of their heads, providing them a little respite from the wind. I heard the sound of peanut shells being cracked and spilling onto the pathway. I threw out some more and knew they were happy for peanuts which they would finish and scurry back to their homes and the only evidence of my presence was piles of peanut shells along the pathway.
Here are a few of the squirrels happily noshing away that morning.
The Cardinal and Blue Jay waited ‘til the coast was clear to swoop down for their fair share too.
Just as I was ready to wrap up this trek, my load lighter, but spirits brighter, I came upon the Mallard. He was snoozing on the cement landing and lifted his eyelid to peer at me, then decided I meant no harm and snuggled back down to finish his nap.
I’m sure glad those brutally cold days are behind us and I’m hoping this week’s projected warm-up happens.