Winter Farmlands

Yesterday afternoon, the farmlands east of Columbia presented a bleak winter landscape; snow covered the ground, dead corn stubble and dry, yellow grass quivered in a cold, east wind, dark, barren woodlands shrouded the stream channels and a flat, gray sky diffused and scattered the weak winter sunlight. Were it not for the occasional grove of eastern cedars, one could have painted the scene in black and white.

Amidst this harsh and forbidding environment, one might not expect to see much wildlife but they would be wrong. As expected, raptors dominated the scene; red-tailed hawks surveyed the grasslands from the barren trees, northern harriers skimmed above the cropfields and American kestrels hunted from the powerlines. Skeins of Canada geese moved across the sky, eastern meadowlarks streamed across the roadways and large flocks of blackbirds settled in the fields. Dark-eyed juncos and white-crowned sparrows combed the roadside thickets, eastern bluebirds and mourning doves perched on the fences and northern mockingbirds flashed across the barnyards. Stopping near the woodlots, I observed the usual mix of winter residents (chickadees, woodpeckers, cardinals, blue jays) and, if I had stayed until dusk, there is little doubt that deer, fox and coyotes would have appeared on the snow-covered meadows.

By late afternoon, a band of pink and gold stretched across the western horizon, a sign that tomorrow might be a brighter day. The wildlife, of course, focused on survival, pay no heed to such signs of hope; driven by instinct, they live in the present and have no inclination or ability to anticipate the future. Indeed, in the fickle world of nature, tomorrow is never assured.