Ramey: Winter solstice in Summit County (column)
December 25, 2015
The sky is grey. It is quietly snowing. It is the Winter Solstice.
Whose woods these are, I think I know. His house is in the village though. Mr. Frost had a pony and a carriage. I skied from the back door to the bike path and then up the canyon. The snow is falling sideways through the pale green naked aspen trees. Snow clumps on the tips of the evergreen needles. Red berries of the wild rose punctuate the landscape with color. Tracks from another skier before me are beginning to fill with snow. I will continue in their path so as not to loose my way. Not likely, as I have traveled this path a half million times on my feet, on my bike and cross country skis.
I never tire of this canyon. I have traveled and memorized the side paths. I know where the marmot is hiding for the winter. I will pass him soon. There are pica here, too, bedded down in their nests of grasses they so meticulously harvested last summer. The coyote and the fox have tried to coerce them from their warm houses with no success. It will be a different story in spring when the thawing snow will reveal their hiding places.
Today, I follow a path through the trees. I see the scars that have formed from new growth of branches and carved initials. There are deer scrapes and places where the porcupines have fed. Porcupines are well-adapted animals. They, being vegetarians, never seem to run out of food. They have eaten the bark of the aspen, and, as a result, the residual black scars form quite a nice pattern and show me how large the animals were. There are beaver and muskrat also. Each has a pattern and a place in the circle of life.
Today, I am in tune with the river. It is in my favorite stage of open water and snow and ice forming around the rocks in more patterns of nature.
As my dog Lulu stops to explore, I look at the adjacent hillside. There is an old mine with timbers from the opening protruding among the rocks. They are leaning over as if to beckon me to come and look for treasure. I can no longer smell the sweat of the miner who put them there so long ago. He had dreams of an opulent life with riches beyond imagination. Perhaps this is now the hiding place for the fox that visits my backyard each night hoping for a handout. Perhaps there is a bit of gold in the wall of his retreat. This would certainly be a warm and cozy corner for the fox to sleep and dream of a turkey drumstick, oblivious to the human greed for the metal.
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I am with forest and the beauty of the river. My dog in her snowsuit and I in my cap will not lie down here for a long winter nap. We glide past the power poles four, five, six then seven. Lulu is on to yet another pile of yellow snow.
We are silent for a bit. We see a squirrel and then raven, the ever present black capped chickadee and a lone woodpecker. At the river's edge, I peek over the banks hoping to see one of the fish I had caught last summer. No, just ice, and the incredible bugs that live on the snow. Was that a dipper? I think not.
Today, the sun will stop, then reverse course. Tomorrow, the daylight will be with us a bit longer. As with the sun, we turn and begin to retrace our path. I am happy to have been here this special day and to embrace the Winter Solstice knowing the seasons will change soon.
Corkie Ramey is a wildlife biologist based in Frisco.
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