By Holly Einess
Two crows are raucously calling and chasing each other as I step out of my car on this cold and cloudy morning. Walking between the Oswald Visitor Center and the Snyder Building I pause to watch and listen as chickadees call to one another and flit from tree to tree. A soft rustling sound draws my attention and I spot a red-breasted nuthatch making its way across the flaky-barked trunk of a river birch.
I’m looking forward to a brisk hike on Ridge Trail, but amend my plans when I see that the trail is both icy and dusted with fresh snow. The combination makes for slippery walking, so I slow my pace. There are turkey tracks everywhere, and it’s clear they too find the footing challenging.
I hear the raspy call of a red-bellied woodpecker and soon spot him in a nearby tree, bright red crown confirming that this one’s a male. (Both females and males have a red nape, but only males have a red crown.)
Scatterings of acorn shells and caps indicate that squirrels are taking advantage of the cache they set aside last fall. Several gray squirrels chase each other noisily along the leafy forest floor and up into trees. December through February is mating season for them (as is June through August) and these creatures are polygynandrous (both males and females may mate with several partners), so such activity is likely to continue in the coming weeks!
I come across a downed tree loaded with turkey tail mushrooms; several kinds of lichen are in residence as well. A dead tree nearby is covered in a carpet of moss. Living things growing on and drawing nutrition from organisms no longer alive; nothing is wasted or discarded in nature, and I wonder where exactly “life” begins and ends.
Ridge Trail view
More turkey tracks appear on the trail, this time three-dimensional, obviously left on a warmer slushier day and now embedded in the ice. I arrive at the Wurtele Bog Boardwalk just as the sun emerges, and I welcome its faint warmth. Nearing the end of the boardwalk I hear what I initially assume is a fellow hiker walking through the leaves, but in a moment I realize my mistake—at least two dozen wild turkeys are foraging, kicking away the leaf litter as they walk along in their search for food.
Arriving back at the Snyder Building I step into the Meyer-Deats Conservatory for a few minutes to thaw my freezing hands and feet. Sitting in the warm moist air amid an array of greenery and flowers feels like a mini tropical vacation. I suspect I’ll make this a regular stop from now on, at least until spring!