Monday, January 7, 2013

Warm Winter Light...and a Proposal

Late on Sunday afternoon, January 6, Kali and I finally got our act together to take a walk.  The day was sunny and clear, and temperatures had warmed to the mid-40s.  Because the hour was relatively late, we decided to walk nearby rather than drive a long way, but the trails in "my" preserve were too wet and muddy. So, we drove about 10 minutes downstream to walk the paved trails in the municipal park along the creek.

The sun was low, and shadows were long...

...but the light bathed everything in warm hues despite the month.

A fallen red oak branch, probably a casualty of of Hurricane Sandy two months ago
At one point, I briefly left the paved trail to check the status of a native grass meadow a few hundred feet off the pavement that I had hadn't seen for several years.  (The grassland - almost a pure stand of native little bluestem [Andropogon gerardii] - is spared the invasion of woody plants because kids (i.e., vandals) periodically set fire to the meadow, which is exactly the management regime that favors the continued existence of the grasses and excludes fire-intolerant woody plants.)  En route to the meadow, along a muddy, rutted equestrian and mountain bike trail, I came across this stand of wineberry canes (Rubus phoenocolasius) set aglow by the afternoon sun.

Our organization hosts an annual Owl Prowl each January; this year's was on Saturday evening, January 5.  It's usually a really popular program with families, but the group rarely hears or sees any owls. (I wonder why...?)  This year, we only had 15 registrants, and none of the participants were children A naturalist led the walk so that I could set up a fire pit, get sticks upon which to spear (and roast) marshmallows, and plug in a coffee urn with hot water for hot chocolate for the "prowlers" to enjoy when they returned from the walk.

I went to the supermarket about 4 p.m. to buy the marshmallows, and when I returned and was walking from the parking lot to the Visitor Center, a Great Horned Owl flew right over my head.  Not only is seeing an owl a special treat because of its rarity, it might have signaled a good omen that the prowlers would finally hear or see an owl later that evening.

Well, the prowlers did not end up hearing or seeing an owl during the walk, but they came back ready for warm refreshments.  As we stood around the fire, warming ourselves, roasting marshmallows, and drinking hot chocolate, a 20-something male member of the group turned to his girlfriend and said,

"Do you know what goes good with roasted marshmallows?

"No," his girlfriend replied, "What?"

"Knock-knock jokes," the fellow answered.  "Knock-knock..."

His girlfriend played along:  "Who's there?"


"Would who?"  And, with that, the young man dropped to his knee, pulled a small box out of his coat pocket, and asked, "Would you marry me?"

(She assented.)

After a while the group began to break up and gradually headed back to the parking.  Those of us who remained heard an owl hoot - one time - off in the distance.
The newly betrothed, John and Angela
Part of the group congratulating the newly engaged


Carolyn H said...

Scott: That's a couple of good stories in your post today! I hear great horned owls nearly every night until they go to nest, but even here on the mountain, I rarely get to see them.

robin andrea said...

What a wonderful post! Love the proposal and the one owl that flew over you. Such beautiful winter light there. We run outside when the sun shows up here, and try to soak up as much of that warmth as we can.

Grizz………… said...

Hey, there's no telling what a cozy campfire, roasted marshmallows, some moonlight, and a lack of owls can inspire in a fellow. ;-)

packrat said...

A terrific marriage-proposal story, Scott; and your image of the young couple adds to the delight.

And here I thought you were going to bore the prowlers with your Great Horned Owl "fish" story.

One other thought: this is the first time I've ever heard of vandals doing a controlled burn.


Scott said...

Carolyn: it's been over two years since I've actually SEEN a Great Horned Owl, so that's why the fly-over was so great! We had them nest in an old broken pine tree on the property; I even saw two fuzzy owlets sticking their curious faces out of the nest hole.

For the first few years we living in this house, owls used to call reliably every winter from the stand of planted spruces and firs behind the house, but they've forsaken that grove for other nesting sites.

Scott said...

Robin Andrea: I could have made up this story as part of a fiction, but it was entirely true. I think I stood there next to John with my mouth agape--it was so unexpected and unusual.

The cloudiness is one reason my wife won't consider moving west of the Cascades/Coastal Ranges on the West Coast, though she'll concede that it's a great place to visit in the summer. Best wishes for broken overcast!

Scott said...

Grizz: I don't think the lack of owls had anything to do with it--John had this all planned well in advance. He even said that he had hoped that more or Angela's friends had come for the Owl Prowl so that they could have been part of the surprise. But, of course, I get your point...

Scott said...

Packrat: When the vandals set fire to the little bluestem meadow, it's an UNcontrolled burn until the fire department arrives with sirens screaming.

My Great Horned Owl "fish story" was extraordinarily fortuitous, but actually something very similar happened at the prowl two winters ago: about 10 minutes before the prowlers began to arrive, a Screech Owl let out its blood curdling whinny right outside the Visitor Center, then never made another peep--of course.