Winter woods call to me through air chilled with frozen breath. Morning’s dawn has broken, but remains grey. Clouds hang above the broken sky that is leaking large white flakes floating to the white blanket covering the earth. Black and white chickadees sit in a line on branches like chocolate drops in a confectioner’s window. Frozen breath continues to rap my windowpane as the winter woods call my name, again and again.
My heavily booted feet step into the snow breaking through the white powder. I try in vain to make my steps quiet, so as not to disturb the natural order of things. My locomotion should be smooth and slow, not harsh and jerky like the human predator that I am. The frozen breath calls me further and deeper into the wood.
I reach the creek now covered with snow and ice; the only evidence of visiting friends is the deer tracks so deep in the snow that they are nearly unrecognizable. But, I would know these long, slender legs with stiletto heels anywhere. I sit on my favorite fallen tree and take in the winter beauty. Sparkling, shimmering crystals shine from every part of the wood that can be imagined – sides of trees, a-top limbs, even every twig and leaf. It truly creates a winter wonderland.
The woods echo a cacophony of hammering in different tempos from different species of woodpeckers – downy, red-bellied, and red-headed, even hairy. As I sit, birds of all types fly down the frozen creek bed as if it were a forest highway, giving short little chirps, tweets and twits as they go – just to let everyone know that they were coming through. I sit, watch, and listen, seemingly for hours, but with fingertips growing cold and a colder rump, I slowly stand and head back to a waiting fire.
I make my way up hill and stop periodically to look and listen. Peering up at the treetops rather than always down at my feet, I have learned that some of the best sights are often up above. This is where the true treasures are hidden. About halfway up the hill, I hear a flutter and a familiar, “kuk kuk keekeekeek” high in the trees behind me. I slowly turn and about 25 to 30 yards away from me is a pileated woodpecker!
I see them in these woods all summer, and rarely spy them in the winter. I am in awe. I bring up my camera and as soon as I get him in focus, “kuk kuk keekeekeek kuk kuk kuk kuk,” he flies off throwing his, “Kuks” behind him. Disappointed in the missed photo, I am still warmed by the unusual sighting of the day.
I continue up the hill with now the promise of a warm fire more near in my thoughts. As I reach the door and turn toward the woods, the birds are still flying about in their own pursuits. I stomp the snow off my feet and step inside knowing the frozen breath of the woods will call to me again on another day – perhaps tomorrow.
Lynn Youngblood is the executive director of the Blue River Watershed Association in Kansas City. You can reach her at TheGreenSpace@sbcglobal.net, or follow her on Instagram at TheGreenSpaceKC.