Winter Break

The nasally, low-pitched notes of the nuthatch enter through my bedroom window (open even in winter and appreciated from beneath the comforters) and I sense my own reawakening. The white-breasted’s wha-wha-wha notes enter non-committedly, sliding in softly from the maples in the yard, or perhaps from the woods across the road.

For me, it signifies a change– a season slowly breaking in mid-February from the constancy of cold and snowy New York weather to the possibility of spring. Here, the winter resoluteness has been good in spite of the promise of another snowstorm and the continuity of cold weather for weeks to come. It’s been good despite the mayhem of extremes bringing trouble to innumerable other sections of the country and the world.

on Dryden Hill…

I’ve rather enjoyed the season’s immutability, the sense of constancy, the lack of extreme cold or warmth, as if for tradition’s sake alone. The weather has been good for skiers and snowmobilers, good for my writing efforts and work inside, and for getting a sense of that natural torpor that some creatures of the northland must employ in order to survive the season.

who sleeps therein?

The nuthatch out my window seems to inquire, Wha-whawhat’s been happening? Well, I’ve been hearing the red fox barking on occasion and, at other times throughout the long cold nights, coyotes have sustained a wild and varied chorusing of howls nearby. The ravens, one of my singular bird contacts through the winter, have joined the crows and starlings massed on freshly manured fields, and one of them has settled on a dead raccoon beside the road.

Coyote commissioned someone else for this…

The American robin has begun its slow migration toward the north, and I’ve just seen the first brave members of the vanguard here. I’ve searched the river wetland where I’ve found the skunk cabbage soldiering on in February these last few years but, alas, now its spring heart lies beneath the ice and snow. Perhaps it, too, awaits the wha-wha-wha of the nuthatch or the fee-bee calls of the chickadee in order to discard its whitened mantle and get down to business.

Raven’s beak…

the spines of winter…

Bootleg Hollow Creek…

the path out back…

Old Walter…


Above the place where the skunk cabbage sleeps/ while its engine purrs and generates heat,/ may I pause and ponder the approach of spring–/ wander by the river’s edge and dream of trout,/ then ramble backward to the deep ravine,/ content with a coat of freshened snow.

what thaw? waterfall, out front…

Genesee River, state line…

the big ravine…

About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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27 Responses to Winter Break

  1. alex55manta says:

    Winter seemed to take a while to get here at my domicile this season. Last evening we got the most significant snow of it – so far. Drifts are in the usual places with variation that makes statistical analysis impossible to predict their location, size and shape. So, spring, while I know it’s on it’s way, doesn’t look like it’s coming anytime soon per the recent event. But, mentally I’m feeling strong and will endure this latest effort – this “Quality of Life” event – since winter hadn’t started on time this year. Of course my tune may change after I go out and plow out the 1/4 mile driveway later this morning (wait a sec…maybe later this afternoon…). UB

    • Glad you’re feeling strong, UB, so get out there & appreciate the beauty of the work to come and, maybe, wait until tomorrow??

      • Ha… wish I could’ve waited till tomorrow but it’d still be there to get done so, best I did it today. Just got in, was out about 3 hours and indeed it was beautiful and surprisingly I didn’t get as cold as I thought I was going to. Was so much snow that I had to ‘push off’ in stages to get room just to do the final plowing. Bright and sunny though here today at 19 degrees Fahrenheit. Wish I had some snow shoes as they would be needed just to hike around in the woods here! Another great post RTR! UB

      • Wow, UB, you folks got the hammering! The weather guessers predicted 6-10 inches of snow for us in NY but we might have accumulated about an inch (so far). But cold tonight!

  2. Jet Eliot says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed your poetic descriptions of the winter scenes, Walt. Your bird communications were an extra plus for me. I liked the photos too, espec. since you share many of these places with us in the summer when you’re fishing, and seeing them transformed by the snow gives them an extra layer of familiarity. I always enjoy hearing about the skunk cabbage. Stay warm and enjoy, my friend.

  3. Brent says:

    Much like Jet, i enjoyed the written descriptions here, but I also appreciate that you allowed the photographs to do the “talking” throughout much of this piece. You’ve captured the singular feeling of the deepest winter in a quiet little hollow. I wasn’t aware you’d christened one of the apple trees Old Walter, but I appreciate the symbolism of seeing him standing in the cold field–mostly uncomplaining–and waiting for warmer times to come.

    • Thanks for that appreciation! Old Walter usually doesn’t say much, grumbles to the chickadees on occasion, but since he let his apples drop in autumn, mostly snoozes through the cold and waits for spring.

  4. Beautiful countryside. I’m not sure if I knew about the Genesee River. But years ago I drank Genesee beer, a style they called creme ale. See ya!

  5. tiostib says:

    An eloquent reminder of Nature’s wonders and re-awakenings, a pleasure to follow in your footsteps.

  6. plaidcamper says:

    Wonderful words and images! Happy to hear you’re stepping away from the desk and stepping out into snow, finding the pale beauty on winter days that many would rather avoid! I like the slight sense of tipping toward spring that later February teases us with.
    Thanks, Walt!

  7. JZ says:

    Cold weather and some snow pack. Hopefully a wet spring for good flows and a NOT so dry summer for our bright color speckled friends we call trout.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Hi Walt
    Hope all is well all good here great pics!

  9. loydtruss says:

    A winter wonderland for sure and your writing brought it all to life. I have a feeling you have fished the stream? I hope you can give us a fishing report from it soon. Stay warm and safe—thanks for sharing

  10. Bob Stanton says:

    Cardinals are starting to make their territorial claims, redtails are omnipresent at roadsides and field edges. I believe I saw a robin the other day, and even more exciting, I think I saw my first otter on the ice of a frozen-over pond! I’m starting to daydream of tight loops thrown at watery targets where a willing participant in our game might be waiting. Hasten down quickly there, springtime!

    • Sounds exciting! And a first otter, too… Thought about those critters recently, and am looking forward to seeing another one some day… A flock of about 200 robins passed over & around the property here a couple days ago, and looked to be heading in your direction! Thanks, Bob.

      • I’ve had report from our local Hair-Dresser that they saw robins also. While I have not seen them here, I believe the report. I’m hoping that a bluebirds show up and stakes out the bluebird box – but even when they did last year, they moved on after too much harassment. I tried to encourage them to stick around (even ‘persuading’ those Euro-Asian sparrows to leave them alone). It’s 3rd week of February so it wont be long eh Walt and Bob? I too am looking forward to the break-up of winter. Soon….. soon. UB

  11. Trust your local Hair-Dresser, UB. He/she knows not only the difference between a bluebird & a house sparrow, but an excellent hair-piece from an orange toupee, as well. Let’s welcome the first bluebird as warmly as the first Black Stonefly hatch!

  12. Klausbernd says:

    What a romantically descriptive winter text. Unfortunately, the winter is gone here at the coast of North Norfolk. After ten days of winter, we have spring now.
    Thanks for sharing.
    All the best
    The Fab Four of Cley
    🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

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