by Stephen Capra
As we approach the solstice, one senses the change in the mood of the land. In the broad expanse of land and sky, the cold air of winter, defines a new cycle of survival. In the Boundary Waters Country of northern Minnesota, the lakes are thick with ice; one can hear the strain as the ice thickens and moans with the light of the late morning touching its nascent development.
The deer seek shelter in the thick expanse of forest, but stand on guard, as the wolves now relish their advantage. While the older animals will push for one more winter to guide them to spring, they will face danger as they search for food, and stand against the cold winds that allow little freedom.
In Yellowstone, the bison move in the meadows, twisting their heads back and forth across the surface, digging deeper, to find the grass which the heavy snows bury and incase for spring. Crossing a road or being startled by a snowmobile can cause the bison to fall, and often break a leg, or a body part essential to their survival. As a herd moves across an opening in the Lamer Valley, the bison whose leg is broken struggles to keep up with the herd. Limping and losing balance, becoming exhausted as the clod steam of his sweat rises into the air, snow crystalizing on his face.
On a rock outcropping above, the pack watches and begins to sense opportunity, as the raven barks out into the empty valley below. The land is white and windswept, the thermals allowing steam to rise along the banks of the Lamar River, ice covering it in places, otters, rising and swimming as the evanescent light touches land and sky, while the bear dreams of a coming spring.
In the Gila country the snow has touched some peaks, the weather is cold and rain has fallen several times. The gunshots and bows of autumn have gone silent. With the sun low in the sky the light touches the open meadows and diffuses in the canopy of ponderosa pines. Much of the land has burned in recent years, and after a wet summer, the growth of regeneration climbs skyward. In this land, ranchers still keep cattle on the range and hope for snows to keep the rivers alive as we move towards summer. When it rains, the Gila River, a place that remains wild begins a trickle, then a flow. The river that has been free, prepares for a winter, knowing that the Bureau of Reclamation is beginning to plan for the occlusion that will choke it off and destroy that natural rhythm that has occurred in this conduit of mountain and desert.
In the night one listens for the owl whose hoots, begin the evening as does the full moon, large and vivid, beginning to rise and cast shadow across the forest. The Mexican wolves are waking up and the excitement is real, the night is before them. Like an athlete there is much fanfaronade as the pack comes together yelping with the energy of life as they begin to patrol the land, as they have for millennium, their prints in the muddy trail are but an imprint of their soul.
It is winter, the land speaks a new language, it sheds its skin in a blanket of snow, its animals, like its people slow down and rest, the chilblain of season, demand much of our energy, the darkness ask for reflection.
For me, it is a time for a good fire. To chop wood, and let the early evenings absorb my thinking. To make a hardy soup and to take the time to read the books that summer and spring allowed me to put down.
It is a time to put on my skis and go into the forest, across the valley to listen for the wolf, or simply hike before the snows truly fall. Winter is here.
Winter is here. Winter is a fine time of year.
Bold Visions Conservation