It was good to feel the sun on my face again after a couple of cloudy days.

Kickapoo River Valley

Kickapoo River Valley

My morning walk along the river was a cold one, but there was no wind and the snow wasn’t too deep to walk through. My breath rolled up like smoke in front of my face. I had my warm hat pulled down over my ears. This was a day to keep those warm mittens on and my camera warm under my coat, but I love the crispness of it all. The muffled crunch my boots made with each step in the soft snow was the only sound I heard as I walked slowly along. The fresh, cold air was a big change from the constant warmth of the woodstove in the house. My lungs always need fresh air in the winter. After an hour or so outside, the cold was beginning to win out and I thought about how good it would feel to back up next to that woodstove. A winter walk can bring so many of your senses to the surface. There are so many different ways to feel Nature’s touch, even when back in the house.

Winter Pumpkin

Winter Pumpkin

Pumpkin for Dinner

Pumpkin for Dinner

I had saved five or six of last autumn’s pumpkins to set out for deer and rabbits over the winter, so I put one out in the back yard the other day. A pretty little doe found the bright orange pumpkin just before dusk that night and wasted no time chewing a hole in the side of it. She then proceeded to eat all the seeds that were inside. They must have tasted pretty good compared to what she’d been eating. It took her three days to eat the pumpkin, being satisfied to eat just a little with each visit. I’ll save the other pumpkins for when the weather turns nasty, then set one out in the yard again and see who comes to eat it.

River Ice

River Ice

Friday morning I headed back to the river again for another crispy morning walk. The previous night’s cold had extended the shelf ice along both sides of the river, leaving only a six-foot wide swath of open water in between. The newly formed ice sparkled in the morning sun and reflected off the ripples in the moving water. I was content just to stand for a while and watch the subtle, quiet beauty of the moment.

Bluebird Taking a Drink

Bluebird Taking a Drink

As though on cue, four small birds landed at the edge of the dark, new ice. Three of the birds looked like juncos, but I soon realized they were bluebirds that had come down for a drink of water. With snow and ice and a temperature around 15 degrees, I couldn’t believe I was watching three pretty bluebirds standing on the ice. It was something you don’t see very day, and I enjoyed watching them for a couple of minutes before they flew off.

Icy Goldfinch

Icy Goldfinch

The smaller, fourth bird was a goldfinch that was traveling with them. It also got an early morning drink and a quick splash-bath in the shallow water before it flew off with its bluebird friends. I’ve been seeing bluebirds here in winter for eight years, and I still find it a little hard to get used to. I really don’t know why some bluebirds stay here for the winter while most of their kind move to warmer climates.

While I walked back to the car, I tried to remember the last time I saw a robin. It was about two weeks ago, I think. Just then, out of the blue, six fat robins flew by. It was almost as if they flew right out of my thoughts. The robins landed in the high branches of a tall black locust tree about fifty yards from where I was standing. I got a picture of one of them, but not a very good picture, I’m afraid. Oh well. Win some, lose some.

Winter Robin

Winter Robin

I watched the six robins drop down to a patch of sumac about a hundred yards from where I was, too far away to get a good picture. I never saw a robin in the winter until about 15 years ago. The first ones used to return in late February, and it was always fun to see the very first robin. That thrill will never come again, I’m afraid, because these days I see them all winter. It had been a bluebird and robin day, and I had to remind myself that it was January in Wisconsin, not June.

Icy Bluebird

Icy Bluebird

I never clean out the bluebird houses until early March because I know deer mice have taken up residence in them for the winter. In summer, they are birdhouses, and in winter, they are mouse houses, and that’s okay with me. I won’t evict the mice until spring, but I do feel inspired to make a couple of new bluebird houses in the coming months. Seeing the bluebirds today has planted the “think spring” seed in my brain, which will grow slowly as April approaches. Until next time, keep warm, stay busy and get outdoors and breathe plenty of fresh air. Time to start planning for that garden and flowers.
Think Spring!

Naturally yours,

Dan