1 - Today (February 1st-2nd) we're at the half-way point between the Winter Solstice and Vernal Equinox. Variously known as Imbolc (ewe's milk) Candlemas, St. Brigid's Feast, Ground Hog's Day, and many others, the day celebrates the gestating new life of the coming year. In our Upper Peninsula climate, the only visible signs of the event are the lengthening days and the arrival of seed catalogs. Personally, I'm still loving winter for the time it allows for reading and woodworking, skiing and snowshoeing. To celebrate, let me invite you to go "shoeing" along Big Creek to see what's going on with the ice sculptures.
2 - Having grown up as a country boy exploring creeks in the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts, I always wanted to live by a creek (which we called brooks in the New England).
3 - Fortunately, I reached my living-by-a-creek goal 30-some years ago when I moved to an old farm near Marquette through which Big Creek flows northward to Lake Superior via the Chocolay River.
4 - Like many of the spring-fed "rivers of sand" that occur in the Upper Peninsula, Big Creek flows cold, clear, and strong throughout the year.
5 - Big Creek will sometimes overflow its banks and become turbid during spring runoff or after multiple summer storms, but it's never gotten low during my tenure here.
6 - Ironically, the "dead of winter" is when the creek come most alive to me.
7 - Riparian zones are always corridors for wildlife movements, but winter is especially interesting as everybody writes their name in the snow as they pass, and some leave other signs as well (more on this in a future blog post).
8 - Aside from the visibility of wildlife activity, I'm most drawn to the creek valley by the dynamic and ephemeral snow and ice formations sculpted by the creek and the storms.
9 - To be most creative, the creek needs very cold weather as the relatively warm creek water tends to melt snow and ice that it touches.
10 - The creek's sculptures are dynamic shape-shifters, constantly growing and withdrawing with the shifting balance between freezing at the air-water interface.
11 - Winter is also an excellent time to explore creeks as there are no pesky bugs about, and frozen ground makes it easier to traverse areas of mucky soil, although reading the ground is still needed to avoid sinking into the muck of perennial seeps.
12 - As a boy, going to a brook was mostly about fishing, or catching salamanders, or pole-vaulting across without getting wet.
13 - As an adult, going to the creek is for me still about fish and fishing, sometimes. More often, it is about the creek itself, especially it's songlike voice.
14 - As with many human songs, the creek's individual words are hard to understand, but the song as a whole conveys its meaning, however inexplicably, if you quiet the noises in your head and listen openly.
15 - Let's enjoy February for what it is! As my old friend Elmer Hill said, "February is one of the best months because it is too late to put up the storm windows and too early to put up the screens".