Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Kate Crowley
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

Going nature's way


February 7, 2019

It’s the first of February and just flipping the calendar page makes it seem like we’ve leapt forward towards spring time, especially since the temperature soared to 10 degrees ABOVE zero! I hate to sound like an old person (I am), but we Minnesotans have become a bit wimpy about winter. Maybe it’s because we tend to have short term memories, and after a few years of milder winters we forget that Minnesota commonly sees subzero temperatures, even into the -30 to -40°F range.

In 2009 we spent most of January with 24 college students, 12 of whom were from a school in Florida. While we were in Ely the temperatures bottomed out. Imagine our excitement when we could tell them that the overnight reading was -49°F! They cheered. We had taught them how to dress in layers and to protect their faces from windchill, so they willingly went out on snowshoes on the lakes and in the woods, looking for tracks of wolves and other mammals. Just spending two to three hours outside in subzero temperatures and not dying was a revelation for some of them.

This year, my siblings in California and Washington were calling and texting to make sure we were still alive. They have been away from Minnesota long enough that they too have forgotten how cold it was in our childhood, when we regularly walked three blocks to school regardless of the weather. I honestly cannot recall anyone telling us what the temperature was, but off we went, bundled in layers of cotton and wool clothing. It’s a different world today and I do understand and appreciate the concern of school officials for students who may not have appropriate clothing for these Artic blasts. But I can’t help but feel there is a note of hysteria related to these cold weather events – maybe because we now have 24 hour news and weather channels.

There will be more cold weather and more snow this month, but we are now on the positive side of the calendar year. While I still love winter, I, like every Minnesotan am looking forward to spring and now you can hear and see the changes all around. The Chickadees have been singing their courtship songs in the morning. The woodpeckers are pounding their territorial tattoo on the tree trunks, the oaks are dropping their old leaves, and as soon as there is a significant thaw, raccoons will venture out of their dens and saunter down our ski trails, leaving telltale footprints behind.

But since we can’t make it happen sooner, regardless of what the groundhog says, we might as well enjoy those things which really can only be witnessed in winter. This time of year, we can get a good sense of the variety and numbers of animals living in our neighborhoods - whether a city backyard or a rural woodlot. Snow is the perfect medium for preserving the footprint of the many critters that share this earth with us.

Whenever I go out in the woods, whether on skis or walking, my eyes are drawn to these stories in the snow. It really is quite amazing to see just how much activity goes on all around us and how little we actually see. One of the reasons is that many animals are most active at dusk or dawn or during the night time hours. Others are so well camouflaged we probably walk right past them and others are just plain scared of us and take off as soon as they hear our approach.

Yesterday I was able to show our granddaughter Annalise a number of wing prints in the snow. These were small ones, where Chickadees or Pine Siskins had landed on soft snow to get at some seeds and their extended wingtips left perfect impressions. Just on one loop of the trails in the woods behind our house, I can find the tracks of snowshoe hare, red and gray squirrel, short tailed shrew, white tailed deer, white-footed mouse, feral cat, and of course, domestic dog. If I cross the road and enter the State Forest, I add the tracks of weasel, coyote, and wild turkey.

Yesterday was a good reminder of the special nature of our lives here in northern Minnesota. Mike went snowshoeing with former students and friends in C.C. Andrews State Forest and across McCormick Lake. With good snow and temperatures in the 20s, they basked in the quiet beauty of this winter landscape. That evening we welcomed a former international Audubon intern; Omi Aguinaldo and his wife Diana are from the Philippines. He specifically chose to come visit in the winter, because it made such a great impression on him in 2009 when he was last here.

They now live in California, and when he told friends where they were headed, they thought he’d lost his mind, but he laughed off their disbelief. As soon as he stepped onto the snowy ground and heard the crunching sound under his feet, he was transported back to those nights when he walked to the intern house under star filled skies – something they never see in Anaheim.

It does our heart good to know that we have introduced people to the beauty of this state. And we are equally glad that Minnesota’s reputation as a "deep freezer" continues because we are selfish enough to want to keep it from the overcrowding Omi described of the greater Los Angeles area. So, go ahead and brag about having survived some of the most challenging conditions Old Man Winter can throw at us. And remember it is only six weeks until the first day of Spring.


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