Winter in Canada is pretty good at making you miss all the aspects of nature that you enjoy because, chances are, those living things you love are dead, dormant, or delocalized. (So, I was just trying to keep the alliteration going there, but by delocalized I mean they have cleverly migrated somewhere warmer, I often wonder why we don’t do the same.) This sense of longing has a silver lining, I think, because it illuminates what aspects of nature you may have taken for granted, and also encourages you to look closely for living things. To give attention to organisms you might, in more plentiful seasons, pass over for something more exciting, or to notice biological shapes and textures you’ve never studied closely before. In other words, this desolate setting reinvigorates the quest for life and beauty.
Luckily, the days are getting longer and there are hints of warmth, on some days… Life is responding and the quest is getting easier. I am quite happy for that. Today I went for a walk with a friend at Grindstone Creek in Hamilton, Ontario. Birds were out in abundance, like the first migratory species to arrive, red-winged blackbirds. The complex squawks of males drifted over the flowing water that was frozen solid just days ago. Males are here early to stake out a territory for when the females eventually arrive. Many of the resident birds were active and noisy too.
A female northern cardinal. Some of the bright red males were belting out their complex lazer-like songs nearby. I personally like the look of the females better, but maybe that is just because folks get excited by the garish males and overlook the comparatively reserved females. Feminism spilling over into natural history perhaps?
At this park lots of people feed the birds and they have become quite friendly. It is an endearing interaction between humans and wildlife, I think. This is a white-breasted nuthatch.
To my surprise the downy woodpeckers were unafraid of humans as well. They are so cute! [The background on this photo was washed out and distracting so I made the shot black-and-white and whited out the background]
Black-capped chickadees were ever curious and would gladly snag food from human hands. When adorable birds were not capturing my attention I looked for some more subtle beauty.
This park had some quite large trees for Southern Ontario. Tree bark, especially on large trees, often has delightful and complex textures. I’m not sure sure what species the first tree is actually, without leaves large trees are hard to identify. The second shot is a paper birch.
The dried husks of summer’s productivity are often sources of beautiful shapes and symmetry, like this burdock fruit.
Many fungi are always present, like these little shelves slowly decomposing a downed tree.
It was nice to see a cute little mammal, an eastern chipmunk. They hibernate over the winter, but because of their small size they cannot pack on enough fat stores to survive, so they stock their burrows with food to keep them going. Winter is still with us so I bet this chipmunk is just taking advantage of the few slightly warmer days to top up its reserves that were probably fully depleted over the long winter.
As you can see, today’s quest for life and beauty was quite successful. No need to wait for the full arrival of spring, life marches on through this still-frigid month. I encourage you to give some of your attention to all those organisms struggling through the cold, find some natural beauty before spring brings it on in waves.