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Nature’s Best By Elma Chapman - Mud-luscious

Those are words invented by e. e. cummings, a poet of the early 20th century, and they imaginatively describe what we’ve been seeing in the warmer stretches of weather this past week. Earlier this week I took a walk in Riverbend Park in Middlebury. I predict we are going almost seamlessly from a foot of snow to a foot of mud, so I decided to walk while there was not so much snow, but the ground was still fairly solid. With the low temperatures predicted for this week, there may not be much more mud yet.

The crusty snow and soft mud were an excellent medium for finding tracks. Although I hadn’t seen the deer for about a month, they obviously are still in the park. I found lots of very fresh deer tracks. Also lots of squirrel and rabbit tracks.

Some of the trees were wearing ice tutus. The water had been higher, froze, and then receded, leaving a ring of ice on the trees to mark the high water point. There were also some interesting ice formations on the log jams in the river. They were sort of like stalactites in a cave, only instead of being mineral deposits they were ice. They’re gone now, but they made for some unusual photos.

The day after my walk there was a new development. Where there had been just some low, somewhat open ground that I used to enter the park, there was now a flowing stream. Meltwater is making its way into the Little Elkhart River. It will be interesting to see how long it lasts. Will it be a vernal pond that harbors frogs? That would be nice. Or will it dry up in a week or two and once again just look like the rest of the forest floor? We’ve only lived here since November, so it will be interesting to see how the seasons unroll this year in the park.

The river is moving fast now but there are lots of trees down across it, making it rather unnavigable at present. There are lots of ponds in the low areas. As I was watching the river, a pair of mallards came waddling down the trail. When they got to a big puddle they calmly swam across it and under the bench that was completely surrounded by the puddle.

The banks of the river have been reinforced with boulders to aid in erosion control, but in some places the water is over the boulders now. I threw some twigs into the river to watch the play of the eddies. The twigs bobbed and spun as they made their way downstream, occasionally getting caught in a backwater or under a log, but then popping up on the other side of the jam.

Looking for signs of spring hasn’t been easy. I was hoping to see some skunk cabbage. It’s usually one of the first green things to push up in swampy areas or along the edges of ponds. No luck there. With a lot of the ground now exposed you could easily see where squirrels were trying to excavate last autumn’s hidden nuts. I have seen squirrels running around recently with large nuts in their mouths, so they must be having at least some success in finding their caches – or else they’re just finding what was covered by snow for so long. I did find a few shoots just pushing out of the ground, but they were so small I couldn’t identify what they were yet. At least there are some signs of new growth.

If you’re hardy and not a fan of the mud-luscious world, get out for a walk in the morning while the ground is still solid and enjoy the changing of the seasons – the very slow changing of the seasons!