Friday, January 21, 2011

A Hill With a View

We got another 6 inches of snow today and I couldn’t miss the opportunity to get out on my snowshoes again. The sky was a magnificent blue with big puffy, dark-tinged clouds, which hung heavy with more snow. I didn’t make it all the way up to the top of the hill, but the view from half way was just as pretty. Right in front of my house, which sits on Fish Creek, is a congregation of about 150 ducks and geese that are over-wintering. But the gathering on the water was smaller today; perhaps they had flown west to the Saratoga Lake, or maybe east to the Hudson River. I’ve noticed that they appear to move back and forth, perhaps to take advantage of sunnier locales as the sun moves across the sky.
As I stood there, looking across the water, and then up into the woods, I felt a sense of jubilation. The air was crisp; the snow was blowing out of the trees, creating a spray of snow that was then carried off on the wind;Lily, my ever-faithful, and enthusiastic, companion was there at my side; and the geese honked noisily in response to our noisy approach (my snowshoes squeak loudly, sounding much like a honking goose, in fact) and at that moment, there was no other place I would rather have been.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Pileated Woodpecker

More beautiful snow! Took a hike today at Moreau Lake State Park to enjoy walking in the snowy woods. While there, I heard two male Pileated woodpeckers (Dryocopus pileatus) debating over territory, and got a good look at one of them…beautiful! With this bird, in particular, it is quite easy to imagine the relationship between it, and its far-distant ancestor, Archaeopteryx! Its call has been parodied by the cartoon character ‘Woody Woodpecker”, but in all fairness, I think it is less comical, and more reminiscent of a jazz vocalist - playing bongos! Its loud thumping punctuates its syncopated call, providing the perfect backdrop for this improvised performance.
The holes that it excavates are very large, made in their hunt for carpenter ants and beetle larvae, and they are typically so large, that they attract other birds seeking similar food. In addition, Dryocopus also provide habitat for other birds, as well; because they excavate such large holes for nesting, which they then abandon when their family is fledged. Other large-cavity dwellers then take advantage of this habitat, and for this reason, biologists say that the Pileated woodpecker is very important for many other bird species.
According to Sibley, they use their large tails to prop themselves against the tree, and their “stout, chisel-like bills” to peel back the bark, and make their sizable excavations.
But their loud, characteristic tapping is not for finding food, or making nests alone, it is also their way of announcing their presence to other would-be interlopers, or to attract mates. Sibley says that you can tell the species of woodpecker by its drumming rhythms, which take the place of an actual song.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Snow Day!

Another day off, and still more snow! Unfortunately, this beautiful snow is soon to turn to ice, ruining the lovely trail I’ve made into the woods with my snowshoes. It has been so exhilarating to climb to the top of the hill,and to peer through the trees, westward, toward Saratoga Lake. My dog, Lily, tramps along, trying with all her might to compete with the best snow dog. She is tethered to my waist, as her still-puppy enthusiasm is sure to get her in trouble, but that means that she has more-than-once threatened to topple us both down an embankment, as she pulls left, when I pull right! (Where is Caesar when you need him?)
I can’t remember another winter so snowy since many years hence, or am I simply myopic in my memory? Although it does make life more difficult, what with driving, shoveling, plowing, etc., it also makes for a very beautiful view. My husband is grumpy in it’s wake, but I love it! Ahh! If only everyday could afford me the luxury of having nothing more to do than to explore the snowy woods!

Monday, January 17, 2011


I woke this morning to a magical wintry world. The trees hung close to the creek, heavy with a hoary frost, as a dense mist rose from its surface. Unlike many who thrive on outdoor winter activities, I tend to hibernate, hiding from winter's far-reaching effects; but this morning's scene was so inspiring, I couldn't help but respond. I feel days such as this are a gift: a message from the universe that even though all life seems frozen and dead, it is, in fact, vibrant and alive with beauty. This serves as a reminder that there is always promise, always hope for new life, no matter how still and silent the world may seem.
It is, in a way, a metaphor for my own unfolding: after having lost my sister to a sudden illness in September, I was left numb and frozen, unable to perceive of hope, or of new light, or a new way of perceiving myself; if I was no longer her sister (at least on earth) then, who was I? But ironically, this cold, frozen weather has helped to thaw my heart: a lotus, opening, deep in my chest, has whispered of a new dream, so long thought impossible.
So this wintry day, cold and forbidding as it may seem, is only that which we choose to perceive: it can be forbidding, or it can swell with promise and hope; a new tomorrow, one that embraces the day with open arms, regardless of how inhospitable it may seem.
Day by day, I feel my heart aroused once more, slowly, I emerge from this deep cavern of grief, and find it is in simple gifts, such as this morning’s beauty, that slowly awaken the heart.