Monday, January 25, 2010
Dead from a bough
January 1, 2010 — Fat Ass 50k, Wallace State Park (near Cameron, Missouri)
Frozen toes, frozen nose, frozen water bottle. I cupped my hand around the spout on my water bottle and blew long, slow, warm breath into my hand. I turned the water bottle over and squeezed hard, then repeated the process a couple more times until there was a slushy sound and free-flowing water dribbled onto the snow. I took a drink and continued my seven-mile trek through ten inches of snow and single-digit temperatures at Wallace State Park.
There were just a couple miles left until I reached the warmth of my vehicle—and the ranger station where the Rissers (who put on the Fat Ass 50k at Wallace State Park each New Year's Day) provide an awesome spread of warm soups, chili, and cookies.
As I tried to remind myself that I was having fun (sure, I really was ... really), I noticed a small, reddish-brown lump in the middle of the footprint-pocked trail. I bent down to scoop up the Carolina Wren, its feathery weight barely noticeable in my palm. It had been dead long enough to be literally frozen stiff, its half-closed dark-brown eyes coated with frost. Running a finger along its breastbone revealed no layer of fat. These little dynamos are bundles of energy. Pairs will stay on territory throughout the winter, and will not hesitate to vocalize their displeasure if you get too close to their brush pile. But cold, ice, and heavy snow are hard on the Carolina Wren. In fact—thanks in part to the relatively mild winters of the 1990s and 20-aughts—their numbers have been increasing gradually since a series of hard winters almost completely drove them out of Missouri during the late 1970s.
This has been a hard winter.
I set the wren down in the snow a few paces off the trail and continued on, feeling a little more absurd for being outside on a day like this, in the undeniably severe cold, in the beautiful and deadly stillness of those blanketed woods.
Seven miles was enough. And at the end of the trail, there was a husband, a daughter, some warm chili, and conversation to warm life back into my nose and my toes.
Later in the day, I told Rick about the wren.
He said, "What's that poem? 'I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself...'?"
"Yes," I replied. "I believe that's how it goes."