A Winter's Ride at Clear Creek Metro Park
The waters of Clear Creek quietly flow under the ice until it surfaces through the rocky rapids downstream from where I rest on its bank, leaning against a sycamore trunk. There are Hemlocks perched above rock outcroppings on the north slope heavy laden with last night's snow fall. Their branches seemingly made to collect and shed snow. Over the edge of the rock cliff is a cascading waterfall frozen in time. I pause to catch my breath and take a break from my bike ride to admire and listen to the stillness of a beautiful winter day. I wait, binocs in hand for
any living thing to awaken, to stir, to move about on this frigid January morning. As I sit alone on the bank, I'am reminded of a statement made by bird ecologist Lawerence Kilham, "One of the most difficult of all things to endure for a crow, a raven, a wolf, or a human is to feel alone and separated from one's one kind. A sense of belonging is one of the most universal of all feelings." Winter, more than any other season tends to intensify our need for kinship, even if it is with species not of our kind. This feeling has been especially been heighten during the recent pandemic where our need to safely commune with nature has enabled us to survive the physical separation from other humans. Perhaps the best consequence of the pandemic is how we have rediscovered our kinship with nature. So I sit below the leafless canopy of this dormant sycamore, yearning for fellowship, species mattered not.
I spot a flock of Carolina chickadees emerge from their roost in a dead box elder stand upstream from the sycamore. Chickadees awake with an energy unmatched in the natural world. They fly and flutter from branch to branch like a band of feathered pixies going forth to cause mischief on some poor unawares passerby. There is nothing like the sound of caroling chickadees to brighten a winter morning. I feel apart of their playful kinship. But their activity is not all play, they must work to survive. I watch them as they begin to search for a breakfast of spiders, insect eggs, and larvae hidden under the loose flakes of bark on decaying tree trunks. All is well in "Chickadeedom" until another "gang" of chickadees try to usurp the "home boys" from their foraging turf. A battle ensues, but few feathers are lost. The "home boys" successfully defend their neighborhood, chasing the challengers downstream from their home with "their tails between their legs."
A calm settles over the "Battle of the Deadwood." The sun rose high enough in the horizon to soften the snow. Avalanches of melting snow fell from the hemlocks on the south facing slope, where I hear a high pitch trill emanating from the understory of the mixed hemlock/hardwood stand. At first, I thought it must be a flock of foraging juncos but as I follow the sound with my binoculars I discover a pair of yellow-rumped warblers (i.e., Myrtles) twitching their tails and plucking shriveled up white poison ivy berries off a vine creeping up a sugar maple tree. Even though they are dressed in drab winter plumage, I could see their yellowish rump patch and flanks. Most warblers migrate south, but the hardy Myrtle is a pleasant exception to the rule. It is able to adapt to winter conditions because of its specialized digestive tract, which enables it to process berries that are waxy and toxic like those of poison ivy.
I have been pleased to take part in and witness winter's nature, but the cold is beginning to penetrate my base layer. It is time to ride to warm up and head for my car where a thermos of highlander grogg coffee awaits me. Although winter biking is not for the faint hearted, it can be a worthwhile adventure if you are willing to take the time to stop and discover the special sights and sounds that only the winter season provides.