I’m on a walk at lunch time. There’s no doubt the birds are down to the ‘winter crew’. That is to say, the bare bows and branches are graced with Black Capped Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, Red-Bellied, Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers, Cardinals, White-Breasted Nuthatches, Blue Jays, Dark-Eyed Juncos, American Goldfinches, American Robins, Eastern Bluebirds, Wrens, but precious little else. I haven’t seen any thrushes or warblers in quite some time.
The eastern sky was pastel-pink this morning during my commute. It offered a fine backdrop to the silhouetted, blacked-out trees and frost-laden fields. It was a world of all black and grays and whites except for the pink of the utter eastern margin of the hemisphere and the upward heights just beginning to blush blue.
Sometimes mornings are difficult. I find If I’m diligent and rise early enough to spend a few minutes to read my Bible and spend time in quiet prayer I’m much more prepared to face whatever the day holds. I’ve done such a thing this morning and am all the more prepared to recall that the sunrise is one of God’s manifold works for his glory. In the same way, the upcoming day is a day the Lord has made and is likewise his work––may I rejoice and be glad in it, working heartily unto the Lord.
Lately the morning reading has been done with Jasmine or Gunpowder Green Tea and cranberry-walnut whole wheat sourdough while I sit in my rocking chair.
In the field bordering the park the grasses and weeds are dried up and appear frozen in their dead, browned state. Goldenrod, Queen Anne’s Lace, Fox Tail Grass, Chicory, fescues, briars and thistles are all mere shadows and shells of their late summer glory.
Perhaps it’s the Goldenrod that has taken the highest fall from grace. At its height in late summer Goldenrod puts on an exquisite yellow-gold display of minuscule flowers. Lauren Brown, in her nifty field guide Weeds in Winter makes an interesting note about the undeserved ill reputation of Goldenrod. She writes, “In medical tests, [Goldenrod] pollen can cause hay fever, but in the outdoor world, it is not responsible, simply because there is not very much of it floating in the air. The real culprit is Ragweed, which has small, inconspicuous flowers and is pollinated by the wind [as opposed to insect-pollination in the case of Goldenrod]. It blooms the same time as Goldenrod but nobody notices it”.1
Brown also notes how blooming Goldenrods might be preserved by hanging them upside down in a cool, dry place. This anecdote reminds me of the wild herbs (Stinging Nettle and Dandelion) my Dad and I collected a couple of years ago and hung in my parent’s basement. My memory is jogged particularly to this because I spent some time over the Christmas holiday chopping up these dried leaves and stems in order to place them in mason jars for easy access when we want to make tea.
Interestingly enough, Stinging Nettle is actually one of the most nutritious plants in the world––although it does come with a caveat for those who are looking to harvest or even touch it. Stinging Nettle, along with Woodland Nettle, have hollow, stinging hair on their stalks and leaves called trichomes that, when touched, sting the skin due to certain neurotransmitter compounds and acids found therein. Although that might sound a bit daunting and painful (the sting does hurt), it’s not so terrible or prolonged such as should induce indelible fear or dread. In fact, sometimes when I go for walks in the temperate months and notice Stinging or Woodland Nettle on the wayside I’ll voluntarily brush my hand against them just to be sure I’m ID-ing them correctly––the sting is unique to Nettle.
Run up 38 steps
Such is my lunch exercise routine at the park. It’s enough to get me out of breath and my heart pumping by the fourth time run up. It’s not profoundly enjoyable by any means but it’s good for me. Today there’s just a little bit of snow on each step so I’m exercising careful attention so as not to wipe out. Out of breath at the top of the final climb, then trotting back down, I’m thankful I stayed upright.
I’ve unintentionally left my binoculars hanging on the coatrack a half dozen times this month but managed to set them out last night and bring them along. Other than watching a Kingfisher graze the stream and eyeing a few of the ‘winter crew’ there wasn’t much wildlife to see. As the temperature has only inched up to the high twenties today It’s not overly surprising there’s little astir. The evidence is undeniable––winter world has unequivocally lulled much of the world into a slumber.
The sun is out for the fourth time this month, making today the fourth sunny day this year. There’s something about the long nights, short days and seemingly impenetrable bands of gray clouds that gets into my bones. Seeing the sun and feeling its warmth chases away a portion of the chill and rot that the winter has accrued in me.
I’m looking forward to the warmth and sunshine of spring.
I’ve been listening to stories from old Appalachian mountain-folk recently online. One individual recalled how his father had once used a stone from the river to sharpen his pocket knife.
I know from my studies that chert and/or flint is harder than steel and can be found in the creeks in the area that I live. I find something suitable during my lunch-break––a piece of chert from the side of the river. I run the blade across the rock, then the rock across the blade to see which works best with the fracture angles of the Chert. As I listen to the sounds I’m making I realize there’s no noise and cadence quite like the one of sharpening a steed blade on a river-rock.
1Brown, Lauren. Weeds in Winter. 1st ed., W. W. Norton & Company, 1976.