A rat, a raccoon, a lone mallard: We are all waiting for spring. It is mid-January and the predawn temperature has registered below 10 degrees for the last two weeks. Snow from a holiday storm still covers the ground. White webs of opaque ice drape over the creek whose frozen, flat surface extends from each wooded edge. Pendulous, bell-shaped, ice sculptures bob from the tips of branches that hang over the center where water still flows freely. The boulders are blanketed in billowy white.
It is too cold for outdoor activities except breaking up the ice on my walk and driveway, so I buy a 12-time pass for yoga classes to help me endure the winter lockdown.
It disturbs me to realize I can't remember what the trees looked like with leaves on them or what my garden looks like in August. I can't recall the smell of hyacinth or daffodil or mown grass nor can I detect one green thing outside my window. I feel a twinge of unreasonable panic and find myself wondering, "What if it never changes?"
It's been awfully quiet outside except for the few chickadees that pass through daily to eat whatever they can peck from the trees and bird feeder. The usually hyperactive squirrels are nowhere to be seen. In spite of these cold, dreary conditions, there are stirrings about. The raucous sound of magpies had been noticeably absent until a few days ago when I heard the loud racket of about 20 of them in the treetops on the other side of the creek. They swooped in and hopped among the limbs. Their communications left me wanting a translation. A few days followed with no sign of them, until early one morning I heard a familiar call from the tree that held a magpie nest for the last several years. They reuse and refurbish it every spring. The nest got blown away in the violent hail storm last fall. It will be interesting to see what the avian couple will do for a nest this year.
Yesterday, I watched a big, chubby rat swiftly navigate the snowy creek edge. Its pointed nose worked like a plow to part and push aside the deep fluff. A few mornings ago, while giving my dog her breakfast on the breezeway, I heard a thump in the nearby garage. It was still dark and it spooked me, so rather than investigate, I went inside and stood behind the locked glass door to wait and see. We had a visitor, all right. An enormous raccoon stepped out of the dark garage. It appeared obese and maybe older because it had so many white hairs around its nose. Though the dog was nearby, it showed no sign of alarm or intention to confront the animal. We both watched it amble off the breezeway into the murky morn.
We've had one other bit of excitement. For months, a lone male mallard has floated in a deep pool up the creek within sight of my house. I got in the habit of calling a greeting to it every day because it looked so forlorn. One cold day while I was pounding at the thick ice on the driveway, my dog's movement got my attention and when I looked up, I was startled to see the duck standing just a few feet away. Neither my dog nor I had seen it approach; it just suddenly appeared, huge and glistening in all its iridescent shades of blues, teals and greens. I could see it had a bum wing that drooped. Before I could finish taking in the sight, my dog put her nose to the slick surface and began a chase, resulting in the three of us slip-sliding in circles like clowns on the ice. Webbed feet offered no traction so the helpless duck tried to stay by my protective side. I had to raise the shovel and my voice to screech at the dog who was having the time of her life enjoying her true nature – to herd anything that moves. Finally, with sweat pouring off my brow, I was able to shoo the duck back into the creek before the dog took a bite of its tail feathers.
Looking forward in my calendar I see that I have marked some days in the near future of February that remind me to hang on for spring. I see that on February 27 the pine cones start popping and that the beautiful wood ducks return in the first week of March. I take a deep breath of stale indoor air, close my eyes and try to imagine the beauty of the spring soon to come.
Merry Lycett Harrison is a longtime resident of Millcreek Canyon.