Natural rhythms

by Lowell Washburn

It’s mid-February. And although the skies above Northern Iowa are clear and sunny, mid-morning temperatures have only risen to a finger numbing 10 below.  But the wind is down and, once dressed in proper attire, it is a perfect day to explore our favorite wetland.

Once we arrive, the winter marsh appears void and desolate.  At first glance, the place seems as inhospitable to life as the dark side of the moon.  At this season, there is no clamor of bird song to greet the morning sunrise.  Instead, there is only frozen silence --- a silence that enhances the overwhelming feeling of complete solitude.

But first impressions are often deceiving.  Once we begin our walk, it doesn’t take long to discover that, even now, the marsh is brimming with life.  The current abundance of bird and mammal tracks offer a wealth of information.  It is here, in the stark freshness of recent snowfalls that we find the natural world’s version of the morning newspaper.  Like most good papers, the snow provides valuable information on social gatherings, social strife, and even occasional tragedies.  It shows where the pheasants are roosting, which weed seed buffets are being frequented by hungry deer mice, and where a resident weasel has set up winter headquarters beneath a forgotten fence line rock pile.

Should we choose to venture beyond the light reading, the snow can also provide deeper insights into a world that many humans have forgotten exists.  It is the harsh reality of predator and prey -- a realm where the natural world is neatly divided into two categories.  One is the hunter; the other is the hunted.  In this high stakes, winner take all game of survival there are no trade-offs, no political correctness, no compromise.  There is simply a winner and a loser.

Although the tense balance between predator and prey is amazingly delicate, the basic premise is simple.  Prey species, such as mice and rabbits, have - Read More VIa e-Edition

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