On a recent cold winter night, I bid good-bye to a man from California. He had never experienced such severe weather. The cold, he said, was painful. He was ready for a change. I assured him spring would come eventually, and when it did it would seem like heaven. The only way to truly enjoy spring is to go through a long winter.
The dying winter is a re-awakening for us and the earth itself. It's a small window in time when life seems to return to the north. Trees bud, birds return to their summer ranges, the days get longer and we linger, rather than race, from the car to a warm house.
I recall a late winter walk I took along the Mississippi River one bright sunny day. For many years we had paddled canoes beneath an ancient white pine that held an eagle nest. Early in the summer we enjoyed watching the eaglets perch on the nest's edge and the nearby branches. I thought it would be fun to climb to the nest and see what it was like.
The sun turned snow to water. I heard water flowing under river ice. Squirrels, birds, and rabbits were everywhere in the warm sunlight. I started with a warm jacket, but it got so warm I hung it on a tree, to be picked up on the return trip.
The eagle nest was about three miles from where I parked. Walking was easy on the frozen river edge. Great sheets of ice lay askew, like a scene from the Arctic Ocean.
The nest was high in a big pine that had few branches to climb upon. But I leaned on a tree that had fallen against the big pine's trunk and was able to scramble up to the limbs. The wind blew hard. The tree groaned and moved. My knees grew weak and my stomach got in a knot. But I clambered up to the nest. It was about four feet wide and made of finger-thick branches. Bones from small rodents, birds, and fish were intertwined in the tightly woven nest. It was strong enough to hold my weight.
The view from the nest took away what little breath I had. I could see for miles over the surrounding forests. Nothing was higher than me for as far as I could see. It was the first sight that dozens of young eagles had seen when they emerged from their eggs.
Just then an incredible booming sounded erupted from the river. The sound was deafening. It was the noise of massive sheets of ice suddenly set into motion, grinding together and shattering into pieces as the force of the current began to shed the river of its winter covering -- an incredible sight and sound that continued for several minutes. It stopped as suddenly as it began. The ice was jammed again and would not be moved by the force of the water's flow.
The sudden quiet was strangely unsettling. I had witnessed one of nature's most powerful moments, and now it was time to leave.
The afternoon sun was hidden behind clouds and a chill settled in as I returned to my car. The air was cooler and I was glad to retrieve the jacket I had left on a tree. I knew winter was dying. The river was coming to life and spring was just days away.
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