When I had driven down to Roundrock on the morning of this visit, the truck stop temperature sign said it was already 38ÂºF. That’s not too cold for a swim, is it? My wishes were thwarted, however, by the presence of a sheet of ice across the top of the lake. Had I brought an axe with me I might have hacked a hole in it to have a swim, but all I had were a pair of loppers and a hand saw, so I continued up to the shelter after leaving the southern property line to have my lunch.
I saw right away that I wasn’t the only one who had had lunch. The crows had been by and had already cleaned out the half bag of peanuts I had left on the snag earlier that morning. I expected they would, and I left them the rest of the bag before sitting down to my own lunch.
A tasty lunch in the cozy chair under the shady tarp overlooking the frozen lake is one of my favorite ways to spend time. I wish I could have sat there for hours. I had restocked the suet feeder, and as I sat quietly contemplating the universe, several small slate-eyed juncos arrived. They didn’t cling to the suet cage, though, but scavenged the ground below it for little bits that had fallen there. They’d clearly done this before since they flew in and got right to it. They were only a few meters away from me, but I feared that if I moved to pull my camera from my pocket, I’d scare them away. So I merely contented myself with watching them for the several minutes they could keep their interest on the feeding. When they flew away, I decided it was time for me to move on as well, but it wouldn’t be my only happy bird sighting of the day.
The TOYOTA, you’ll remember, was at the other end of Roundrock. That was only a half mile away, but for a day dreamer whose attention is easily diverted, that was also several hours away. So I cleaned up the empty bags from my lunch (which included four of Libby’s homade chocolate chip cookies), packed my pack, collected my tools, and turned my feet to the west for a ramble up the Central Valley and back to the Prolechariot.
At the west end of the lake there are a number of exposed small trees that I’ve wanted to chop down since I first saw their offensive branches rising above the water. Because the lake was down a few feet, I could get to several of them, and with the help of the loppers, I chopped them at ground level. I don’t know if this will make a difference in their return this spring, but it felt better than doing nothing.
Back in the early days of our tenure at Roundrock, when the creek that forms the Central Valley was our primary avenue for getting in and out of our 80+ acres of wilderness, there was a pretty good path we could follow. The deer used it as well, and between us, we managed to keep it clear. But then we built that road and could drive all the way in. And those ice storms of last winter brought down all kinds of trees and branches. And these days, whatever trail we once had there is mostly gone. In some places the grass grows so thick that we dare not enter it three seasons of the year (chiggers, of course), and in other places, the tangle of downed limbs calls for looping diversions.
But what is a wilderness ramble without a little rambling, right? Just like the path we’re trying to cut along the property line, a little work on the missing trail in the Central Valley each time we use it will have it open in no time. And if not in no time, then eventually. And if not eventually, then what the heck; it’s still fun doing it.
So I poked along, doing more work liberating cedars from their earthly toil than clearing the path, but the sun was shining and the air was clear and I was where I wanted to be. A bird flitting in the trees over my head caught my eye, and though I never did see what kind of bird it was, my eye drifted to the great blue dome above, and I saw another bird. I thought it was a turkey vulture at first, but the wings didn’t look right. Then I realized I was seeing a large brown bird with a white head and a white tail. I was watching a bald eagle gliding in the skies over Roundrock. Now I don’t want to get all weepy and sentimental, but this was an emotional moment for me. This was the first time I had seen an actual bald eagle at Roundrock. Sure, they probably visit frequently and I just don’t see them because I’m not around enuf. And sure, the nearby Corps of Engineers lake probably attracts bald eagles by the score. And sure, this time of the year sees plenty of visiting bald eagles from the frozen lands of the north. But all of that wasn’t important to me. What was important was seeing one of the most impressive symbols of the American wilderness soaring in the skies above my woods. I was down in the valley, so I was hemmed in by hills rising on either side. But in the whole minute or so the eagle took to transit this airspace, it never flapped its wings once. I didn’t move, and maybe didn’t even breath, until the eagle flew out of sight.
When I finally returned to myself again, I steered my feet back up the valley and closer to the truck waiting ahead. But I had one more, more mundane wild encounter ahead of me. You may remember from my earlier post that when I was following the posts along the southern line, I came to the post planted in the middle of the creek where we estimate the line runs. It wasn’t long after my eagle encounter that I came to this post again. It was time to leave the creekbed and follow the familiar line back to the road where I had left the truck. The ground slopes abruptly here, and I was able to reach the flatter land just above it without being seen in my approach. What I saw not ten meters ahead of me there was a solitary opossum poking through the leaf litter, looking for lunch. The wind was blowing, and when it rattled the branches of the trees, I made my steps in the leaves, covering the sound of my approach with the natural noise of the forest. The scrub trees are dense in this part of the forest, so I never got a good angle for a photograph, but I got to watch the critter for five minutes, uninhibited in its patient foraging. I realize that for some people, this kind of encounter is commonplace and not special, but for me, it’s exactly the kind of thing I go to the forest for.
Not too far after this, I was able to see the glowing red of the Prolechariot through the trees. It was time to pack up and head back to suburbia, and that’s what I got about doing. Driving out, I stopped at our accustomed spot on the lip of the hill over my neighbor’s valley. This is the last place where our phones get a signal when we are going in and the first place when we are going out. Libby was certain that on my solo visit this time, I would break my leg and be stuck in the wild, far from help and far from a phone signal. So I stopped the truck there and called home, assuring her that I was all right and on my way.
- Peak numbers of bald eagles gather this month near open water and big rivers.