Sounds of Silence

By Boak Wiesner

Completely cloudless at noon in the early part of the year during a decidedly odd winter creates a very quiet atmosphere that lets it be “eerily quiet,” in the words of a fellow solitary sojourner along Three Mile Drive. The Arboretum’s juxtaposition between two airports means that the buzz and shrill of planes is heard usually very frequent, but even this seems hushed by the stable air.

With no snow on the ground, there isn’t even any crunching underfoot, so the day is one of pure listening. All it takes is to move slowly and let go one’s own chatter.

Even fairly small Green Heron Pond’s ice is making “cracks and growls” that reverberate through the ground and up into the hills.

I come across a mob of crows literally kicking up the leaf litter at the top of the hill amongst the maples. A couple of squirrels have joined them. What exactly they are eating isn’t apparent, but it must be some as-yet-uncovered-by-snow corvid treat to get them so actively searching.

Standing on the new bridge in the depths of the ravine there are at least seven squirrels rippin’ it up among the leaves on the slopes all around. With no foliage, it is easy to see quite a ways through what in the other months is blocked by dense growth.

The “usual suspects” of our winter birds are calling. More red-bellied than downy woodpeckers it seems today. Nuthatches and goldfinches and chickadees are calling. Perhaps because of the unseasonably warm day, one little guy is audacious enough to give a mating “fee-bee” call or two. For Emily Dickenson, all it takes to make a prairie is “one clover and a bee.” All it takes for me to realize the winter’s grip will be lifting, even if not tomorrow but at least sooner than later now, is that one particular call. Usually I hear it at the end of February.

Come to think of it, I did see several pairs of squirrels chasing each other around on tree trunks, making “barber pole” patterns, and through the leaves. Perhaps these strangely warm days have put fond thoughts in the males’ heads already?

Boak Wiesner is a Minnesota Naturalist volunteer.
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