Hello My Friends!
The new year is whizzing by and it is almost March! Here in south Florida, it is high season- which means that it is the height of the social season and the tourist season. Lots of visitors, seasonal residents looking for things to do and more events than anyone could possibly attend. It is also the height of our local growing season. Season goes by so very quickly.
I was away for two weeks in January. I made the trip to Iowa to visit family and to take in some winter. I know that last part sounds strange, but I miss the change of seasons after living in a climate that is so monotone. It was wonderful. I arrived when there was no snow- only barren, brown landscape and remnants of holiday lights. It had the appearance of late autumn. Then, everything changed overnight. The snow came in beautiful blankets that softened and brightened everything. In the subdued, angled sunlight of the day, the snow glistened with the beauty of uncountable diamonds under the cobalt-blue sky. I could have sat and looked at them for hours. Winter had arrived!
With the snow and clear skies, I could not be held indoors in spite of temperatures near zero (degrees F). I put on my warmest winter clothing and headed out to the Mines of Spain, a state park on the south side of my hometown. The roads were passable, so long as you didn’t do anything rash. I parked at the vaguely outlined lot at the trailhead and headed down the prairie trail that I always hike during the warmer seasons. This was the first time I was here in the full beauty of winter. I was struck by several things. First, as I drove here, there was snow blowing and drifting across the corn and soybean fields, which eventually crossed highways and made travel unsafe. Here, in the restored prairie, the snow was held tight to the land. There was no snow blowing across the roadway nor were there dangerous drifts along the highway. The dormant prairie grasses and plants held the snow in place, and would later absorb the moisture as it melted. Are some of our winter travel problems caused by the loss of our native prairie?
The snow-covered restored prairie was incredibly beautiful. In the dead of winter, it was anything but lifeless. Although I was coming to the prairie only hours after the snow fell and the sky cleared, there were signs of life all around. Animal tracks trailed through the snow in surprising numbers. Birds swooped and perched in the trees and brush, dislodging clumps of snow as they moved about. The trail dropped down the hillside and into the sheltering forest, which was nothing less than magical in its stillness and serenity. It was although I had stepped into the great space of a grand cathedral. As I approached the bottom of the hill, great boulders of ancient limestone lie about, having long ago cleaved from the river bluffs above and tumbled towards the great Mississippi River below. I remember climbing up to these boulders once during a springtime visit several years ago to look at the hundreds of wildflowers they hosted.
When I reached the bottomlands, a silent creek lie frozen and covered with snow. There were more tracks here too, but some of them were the tracks of snowshoes from a solitary person! So, I was not the only one who was unable to resist the call of the woods and prairie in their full winter glory! I would never know who the snowshoer was, but I did know that he and I shared a kinship, a love of the land and the seasons. Out here, in the wild and untamed land, I had just missed a friend who I had never met.