The still life of the river (Ask your doctor if Prozac™ is right for you!)

Even in the deepest and darkest parts of winter some, like this chickadee, seem to revel in life and find reason to sing.

Photo: Steve Burt

Field mouse with acorns

Photo: George McCarthy

Well, here we are in the melancholic month in Minnesota when the natural world quiets to a barely discernable whimper. Even the name of the month declares caution and restraint, "NOvember." It is the very antithesis of its arch nemesis, May, the month of possibilities. As in: "May I?" November would answer in the negative if presented with that forward-looking and hopeful question.

Most of our brilliantly colored bird friends have gone, leaving the rather dullish looking, if hearty, winter residents to face the coming winter with little water to drink and food all the harder to find. The many-hued green foliage has been replaced by the earthy tones of gray and brown, which suit the month well. None of the gaudy and loud colors of spring will do. Turtles, frogs, flowers, katydids, mushrooms, bears and woodchucks are hunkered down awaiting better times. One of these days winter will roar in, gobble up those creatures who for whatever reason evolution has sent down this path of trying to eek out a winter living, and spit them out thinner, weaker or without a pulse at all, upon spring's welcome return.

To be sure spring is biding its time to make a grand entrance once again. It will not and cannot be denied. The seeds of new life have been sown. Before we know it owls will be doing the mating thing, horned larks will be picking at gravel along county roads and willow catkins and skunk cabbage will emerge. But, for now, life is battening down the hatches for the snow and subzero temperatures surely on the way.

However, even in the deepest and darkest parts of winter some seem to revel in life and find reason to sing. The chickadee is one such creature and it is hard not to absorb some of the positive energy, despite attempts to push back this joy and wallow in the curmudgeonly frozen slush of the season. After all, winter is the time for quiet contemplation, planning and, yes, a certain amount of sadness.

Do venture out into the woods and prairie but please demonstrate some restraint, decorum and reverence. Winter is truly a difficult time for wildlife, approaching them may cause them to expend energy that they need to survive. Give them — and any suspected nests or habitat — space. And remember that sound carries farther in winter; keep voices down and let nature's sounds prevail.

Winter solitude

Winter solitude--
in a world of one color
the sound of wind.

— Matsuo Basho

Some good winter reading: