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Here’s to more sunshine in days ahead

John Pepin

If I look away into the softly falling snow, I hear music in my head as I stand here, preparing to walk a bit farther into this February scene.

I paused here to take a breath or two.

An old and leaning paper birch steadies me at the shoulder.

I wonder whether this tall tree, which may have been standing here when the Titanic sank, is asking why I am leaning against it when it is already leaning itself.

Or are we holding each other up, at least for a moment or two?

As I begin to move again, I walk along a stand of red cedars.

Black-capped chickadees concealed within the branches and green needles of the trees sing out to me exuberantly, a clear sign more daylight in the sky has helped bolster their little spirits.

I call back with a “beep-beep,” like the Roadrunner cartoon character.

The birds respond in kind.

We repeat this music phrasing back and forth several times until I move out past the trees and on down along my way.

The weather seems to fit me well today.

It’s kind of warm, but with a clip in the wind that makes me keep my collar up around my ears. It’s not really like winter and it’s not warm enough to be spring.

It’s something in between that doesn’t really have a name.

It’s something neither here nor there, not back nor forth, not up nor down, it’s just here – wherever that is.

Seven miles to the old riverbank, two miles to the next rest stop in my mind.

A line of deer moves through the hardwoods.

It’s a slow, wagging kind of walk. The deer have their heads hung down and those heads seem to sway back and forth.

I call this the donkey train.

I saw the deer yesterday in a line of a half-dozen. They didn’t see me.

Today, there’s only three, but they still look like nodding donkeys moving lazily through the trees along an old logging road.

Up ahead of the train, I watch a crow twirl down through the trees to the ground, like a falling black leaf.

The bird lands and almost immediately hops up to the rail of what appears to be an old fence, covered in brush. The bird hops back down to the ground and then flies off with something in its mouth.

A companion crow arrives and drops to the ground, picks up something and then flies away and up to a low-hanging branch of a tree not too far away.

The bird flies over my head and I see that it is carrying something in its mouth that I can’t quite make out.

What I believe to be the first crow returns to the spot by the old fence to repeat its actions, this time in faster fashion.

It again flies away with something in its beak.

About this time, the donkey train reaches the point where the crows were landing, and they stop momentarily to sniff the air and the ground.

Whatever it is they are sniffing, it’s likely only a trace of what was there before the crows found it – perhaps a discoloration in the snow and nothing more.

The gray and red squirrels are noticeably more active over the past couple of weeks. I’ve seen them chasing each other as they amble over snow-covered logs and up and down the trunks of trees, casting spirited shadows on the snow.

I hear the clucking call of a pileated woodpecker coming from a place not too far from me. They seem to me to be among the ancient style of birds, like the sandhill cranes.

To me, they resemble a Pteranodon, which were known from the Cretaceous geologic period to inhabit several places known today known as Nebraska, South Dakota and Kansas, among others.

Blue jays loudly announce my intrusion into “their” forest space. Mourning doves look down at me, seemingly dumbfounded, from a birch branch that overhangs my path.

I stop at a place where water drips down the face of a rock outcropping.

The sound is soft and soothing like wind chimes clanging softly on a warm summer afternoon. The water runs over ice on some of this rock face and freely across exposed surfaces of stone or green moss in other places.

Drip, drip, drop, drip.

The rhythm reminds me of the Dion and the Belmonts song, “Drip Drop.”

My buddy come to see me to give me a tip, tip, tip

I said, ‘Now listen here friend, I tell ya I’m hip, hip, hip

Why don’t you mind your own business, shut your lip, lip, lip

I know when my girl’s gimme the slip, slip slip

I said the roof is leaking, rain’s falling on my head (drip drip, drippity drop)

I cried so hard, teardrops on my bed (drip drip,

drippity drop)

The dripping water is more evidence of the neither-here-nor-there character of the landscape, the weather and my disposition today.

There are no real clouds in the sky, but more like one big piece of whitish-gray wool stretched across the firmament. The sun was out this morning, but it disappeared after an hour or so.

Forty miles to the golden country, where the creek bubbles and snakes through the snow-covered wetlands. The trout there are hiding and hungry. Three miles from here to the back of my brain.

Last night, I stood outside and heard a low kind of “bumping” sound that I deduced was ice forming, cracking, spreading or otherwise moving on the lake across the way. It was the only sound I heard in the silence.

The air was cold last night. Cold enough to make ice.

The great-horned owls I’d been hearing singing recently have evidently sung all they had to sing. The night was black with no stars.

I guess if I kicked my boot through the snow now, about two inches of this soft stuff would lift-up off the ground. It’s not a lot.

On my return trip I again beep at the chickadees, but they aren’t in the mood to humor me now. No more “beep, beep.” I get the more familiar response of “dee-dee-dee-dee-dee.”

I guess if I think about it a little more, the day seems kind of suffocating, with the woolen sky, the fair to midland of it all and the relative inactivity of the forest creatures.

Here’s to more sunshine in the days ahead – to nest building, marsh marigold blooms, dawn choruses and the grand awakening of the entire countryside.

Sunset these days isn’t until after 6 o’clock now. Next month comes the time change to daylight saving time. From there, we ought to be riding the high wave into springtime.

At that point, I’ll be hoping for rain showers to green up the brown and the gray and the remains of the dead of wintertime.

I know then it will seem a good deal more like life is alive and kicking.

However, I know better than to bet my wishes of happiness on a sometime day in the future.

Gotta live today. Gotta live now.

Drip drop, drippity drip.

Gotta love Dion.

Outdoors North is a weekly column produced by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources on a wide range of topics important to those who enjoy and appreciate Michigan’s world-class natural resources of the Upper Peninsula.

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