Thrill-seekers here in the Midwest are riding a roller coaster of weather this year. We keep a varied wardrobe at the ready. Some days require five layers across the body to keep fresh water available for chickens, geese, turkeys, pigs, goats and donkeys. Those days require a third arm to cart chopped potatoes, apples, peanuts, and oranges to the wee beasties along with water-filled buckets.
Five days after the quarry froze over and (pictured above) we added our tracks to those of deer, turkeys, rabbits, and squirrels, we wore rain coats and boots as 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit thawed everything to bog-worthy mud. There’s a sock buried in the pasture now, one that fell off my foot while I tried to extricate my boots. That sock can stay there until spring. I’ll need the boots, though.
It got cold enough to snow again, enough to make for a gorgeous Hat Day Hike on January 14. It was maybe a little colder than necessary, truth be told. But the wind was low; even lower in the shelter of the trees on the preserve. Hometown Stations’ Katie Honigford joined us for the first leg from the Seitz Family Pavilion, down the hill to the footbridge.
The quarry was no longer hard frozen. During the thaw earlier in the week, the thick surface ice cracked. High water lifted one sheet, overlapping another, leaving the layers to freeze into a sort of uneven fault line. Wildlife tracks padded from one plate to another on their way to open water at Cranberry Run.
Up the hill, Wendy spotted a small herd of whitetailed deer, wondering what they ate. She asked if we feed honeylocust pods to the pigs (the jury is still out.) The pods aren’t a first choice for wildlife, either, and quite a few still hang from trees and litter the ground alongside osage oranges. Unlike last winter, 2017 yielded a bumper crop of black walnuts and acorns–the preferred food of deer and other herbivores.
Naturalist Natalie shared her track ID expertise. She led us in a scat spot challenge, too, up the hill in the back field. The wind reached us there in the open grasslands. We looped back down the hill, around the quarry, and back to hot cocoa, chocolate-cherry and sugar cookies.
The crowning moment was the award ceremony for Most Colorful Hat and Most Unusual Hat. With a dinosaur, a sunflower, snuggly ear flaps and a fluffy snowball in the running, I couldn’t pick just one. Keep in mind that the judge is a softy when you select your headgear for Hat Day Hike 2019.