Icicles, Nuthatches, and a Haloed Moon

Text, reading and photographs by Robert Towe

From my nature journal Monday morning, Jan. 25:  I just stepped outside with the small dog into the bright melting snow to feed the birds. Icicles dripping along the eave make spring-like water music, sparkling with sunlight. The sound synchronizes perfectly with a song sparrow’s jubilations near the birdbath. 

After the fierce two-day storm, melting began in yesterday’s thawing sunlight. In starry night stillness, meltwater on the road refroze into the treacherous “black ice” everyone talks about. This morning’s crusted snow crunches with my boot steps. Even the small dog’s soft little feet make noise, breaking yesterday’s frozen slush. She piddles about among the tree shadows on the snow, and scampers back toward the den door, her every step breaking the crunchy ice.    

Sipping a cup of steaming pungent coffee I stand in the cool air, listening to a slight wind whispering through the tall bamboo. I watch for slight movements of light and shadow in this winter morning thaw. Always, birds are doing something audible, visible, or both, if we train our eyes and ears to catch it. This morning it’s the whitebreasted nuthatches. A dozen or so of them are chittering and giggling in the bare maples above the bamboo behind the woodshed. This gathering amounts to a “flock”—more nuthatches than one usually sees at a time.

The little nasal chuckling ernt! ernt! identifies them before I see their sleek black and white shapes darting and scratching (often upside-down) among the branches, looking for dormant insect eggs and larvae nestled in the crevices of the bark. Nuthatches are friendly, “happy” birds, constantly moving, and just watching them play and feed among the gray winter limbs makes me smile, almost wishing I could fly up and join them.

Also this morning I hear the first late-winter songs of towhees, scratching in the rusty-brown brushy edges. That familiar Tuh-weee!  is a most welcome lyric, trilling across the bright snow shadows. It’s the melody the melting ice itself might make, as the bonds of ice release, and break.    

Last night I went outside to enjoy the vast snowy darkness, luminous with moonlight. Waning now, the high “Wolf Moon” was encircled by a thick halo glimmering through icy cirrus clouds. Such haloes are accurate weather signs, usually portending rain or snow within a day or two. I reach both arms up toward the moon, as if in praise, and notice that the span of my two hands touching at the thumbtips (about 18”) just fits inside the wide halo ring. I held the uplifted gesture a few moments, giving thanks to the Creator for the hazy winter moon, the deep night silence, and for whatever weather is on the way.