Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The music of January

The months of the year, from January up to June, are a geometric progression in the abundance of distractions. In January one may follow a skunk track, or search for bands on the chickadees, or see what young pines the deer have browsed, or what muskrat houses the mink have dug, with only an occasional and mild digression into other doings. January observation can be almost as simple and peaceful as snow, and almost as continuous as cold. There is time not only to see who has done what, but to speculate why.**

~ Aldo Leopold, from the first pages of A Sand County Almanac

That passage is from a chapter titled "January Thaw." We don't have enough frigid weather here in Tennessee to experience a real thaw, but we are presently in the midst of a warm, wet spell that hints deceptively at spring. My walk this morning felt more like April than January, with a mild breeze that -- thanks to last night's heavy rain -- carried multiple voices of water in motion. The creeks burbled energetically, fat drops spattered as they fell from the trees, and I could hear the moisture perking into the soil beneath. I stopped for a while to listen to the layers of sound, a veritable concert of water.

The woods are filled with the noise of life in winter. I seem to forget that noise from one year to the next, so it's always a fresh pleasure. The trilling birdsong of summer is absent, but there is constant chatter from titmice and chickadees, and the woodpeckers are their usual rowdy selves. The wild turkeys gather in large flocks this time of year, and though they don't vocalize much, they make quite a racket kicking up the leaf litter as they march together through the trees. Groups of deer make the same loud rustling -- I often can't tell which animal I'm hearing until I see a flash of white tail or catch of glimpse of the birds. (How is it that wild turkeys always manage to seem simultaneously dazed and panic-stricken?)

There are quieter beings about, of course. The coyotes are not calling much as yet (it's the start of their breeding season), but they're leaving a lot of scat on the trail, the coyote equivalent of graffiti: I WUZ HERE. I got a strong whiff of skunk yesterday, and this morning a raccoon had left dainty wet tracks on one of the wooden footbridges. I suspect they're all enjoying the warm spell as much as I am. The snow expected tomorrow is natural and welcome, but this touch of spring is very nice while it lasts.

**The 125th anniversary of Aldo Leopold's birth seems like a good occasion to resurrect this blog, which I abandoned more than a year ago. I didn't stop posting because I stopped walking. I just found that there were too many demands on my talking self elsewhere for me to summon words for this blog. The relative quiet of this time of year, as Leopold says, nurtures a slower and more thoughtful existence, and I'm feeling lately that I might have the mental room to comment on my wandering life again. I don't expect to write a post here daily, or even weekly, but I am at least going to share photographs and the occasional poem or passage.

Photo by BitterGrace. Share freely