Winter blossoms with unexpected dramas

The winter takes us traveling along its northern arc and the sere portion of our round year. The light is longer now and brighter, but movement seems to stall. We count the wanting spring again, but have no choice and wait for the return.

I go north, hoping to stumble across the locus. The creek ice is crazed and bubbly, stress lines stretching around rocks. A crow saunters along the edge, bobs his head, and tells me off.

The rough shore is glazed and slippery. If I'm to make any progress, it'll have to be on the top bank. I find it a little disappointing, the high ground windswept and without expression.

Looking at the falls from this angle, though, is interesting. The ice arch, forming from the water that pours over the shale ledge and throws up a spray, appears to be suspended, from ... what? Where's the keystone? The water boils at the bottom.

The ancient sycamore is peeling, graying, leaning a little bit more this year, history written all over it. Rubus odoratus (flowering raspberry)is auburn-haloed; its prickly canes, clothed in fuzzy fine stuff, filter the cold prismatic light.

The winter woods tattles on who passes by here and what's going on: an owl pellet, bark nibbled away and the trunk scored by a hungry critter, an abandoned bird's nest. There are prints that dig into the snow and turn abruptly, others that overtake another, some that go on and on but then disappear altogether. A tuft of fur snagged on the fence remnant. Winter's the revealer of little dramas, unseen under the fluff of summer.

A drift of snowdrops surprises me on the south-facing slope, an island of lively extravagance. I don't remember ever seeing Galanthus up this early. The soil is winter-hard: these pairs of snowdrops, with lancelike three-inch leaves and tips slightly thickened (like delicate nails on fingers), are especially suited to serve as groundbreakers for the more delicate flowerheads that will soon follow.

Partway up the incline, a few blossoms are up, but they're mostly closed and clasped in a transparent, green-edged sheath. A couple at the top of the slope have burst out and left the sheath dangling and useless: a miniscule windowpane slipped with emerald trim.

Late winter is ephemeral in its own good time, and now mine. Snowdrops are a wonder in a world of wonders. The glimpse I get in the presence of wild things and the journey it takes me on returns me to a world larger than that of our own making, and a truer context.

Still, we're not well-suited to seeing all the life that must be in it and have to be content to catch a few of the tell-tale signs. A cold wind still blows: I chill easily.

I lean my back against the warm stone wall, close my eyes, feel the faint late-winter sun warm my lids, and wait.

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