Lots to Experience in January

(reworked from the Patterson’s “Iowa’s Wild Side” column
originally in the Cedar Rapids Gazette)

Winter in Iowa is erratic. Mild. January thaws. Grey, damp, and achy mornings. Frigid. Blustery. Sunny, sparkling days when all is right. We have it all. Here are ways we a find joy in January.

Some people escape to warmer regions. Most of us hang tough and grumble. At Winding Pathways, we’ve found that simple observations can enliven and deepen our appreciation for the change of seasons.

Sit Still

Bundled up in his Carharts and sitting quietly downwind at dusk, Rich notices deer begin to move. Stars and planets glow. Five geese honk and wing across the waxing moon. A photographer’s dream. An owl’s call fills the stillness left behind.

Wildlife freeze as the great horned owl’s ghostly shape floats silently to a branch near our home. Puffed to twice its size, a buffer against the cold, it waits. Several long minutes pass. Then, a rabbit cautiously emerges from the prairie stubble. An opossum noses hungrily at the compost heap. A startled mouse scurries across an open space. With talons extended and yellow eyes gleaming, the owl drops.  After a brief scuffle, only bits of fur remain.

Observe When You Drive

Another way we find Joy in January is by taking drives. Across a frosty Iowa road, we slow as four deer race across a field, leap a barbed wire fence, and dash to safety beyond busy Highway 30. We speculate what startled them.  A short time later we observe a face-off between a grazing cow and a foraging hawk. Neck stretched out, nose to the wind, the cow eyes the hovering hawk.

From the comfort of our home, we watch birds. Siskins, when the weather is cold, Carolina wrens when winters are mild, hang around the feeder and shrubs loaded with berries. A red-headed woodpecker pecks at suet. It rattles noisily and jabs its lance-like bill at the less aggressive birds. Its strong bill is great for hammering insects out of frozen trees and pounding holes in ice-encased water baths.

January Ice

Black ice is another winter phenomenon. While not fun to drive on it is intriguing on rivers, ponds, and lakes. One Kansas winter an Arctic airmass plunged into the heartland and gave us a chance to peer into the dark depths below.  A snapping turtle slowly swam through the thick water.  Ice skaters reveled in the unusual event.

Nowadays we enjoy Arctic air from the inside. A small pool is just outside our window near the feeders. Sometimes, when temperatures drop quickly, and black ice forms we can see “through the looking glass” so to speak.  A small aerator keeps a circle of water open. Small birds hop to the edge and drink.  The overwintering goldfish appreciate the extra O2.

And we enjoy hot chocolate during January’s dormant month.