American crow is the first to appear on this subzero morning. He circles around among the treetops, landing here and there high up, and pausing to survey the scene below.
Gray squirrel is the second in the morning parade of creatures. Some thawing weather, followed by this hard freeze, has left a sturdy crust on the top of the two feet of snow cover on the ground, so squirrel bounds across it happily in search of food.
The third is black-capped chickadee, who darts down to the ground to my left after something on the snow. After a moment he quickly flits back up to a sheltering conifer.
And finally red squirrel comes hopping across the snow crust 30 yards ahead of me. He pokes about after something on the ground and then scampers up a big green ash tree.
And that concludes the parade of creatures willing to venture out in this subzero weather, here in the deep woods by the frozen Red River. No, wait a minute. White-breasted nuthatch has deigned to appear on a tall hackberry tree a few yards in front of me. He fusses around on the bark for a few seconds and then disappears into a hollow at the base of some of the heavy tree limbs. Does he have a home in a cavity in the tree?
In the summer I have often seen nuthatch bury seeds under the bark of Norway pines. But would he use the hackberry bark for that purpose? It seems like an unlikely tree choice.
I step over to a nearby hackberry to take a closer look at it. The bark is very hard and almost painfully rough when running the hand over it. But it does have deep crevices for concealing food treasures. And what does nuthatch care about roughness? Does his action this morning illustrate his storage of food in the summer for possible retrieval in the winter? Perhaps so, but his storage in the summer seems so haphazard that I wonder how he finds it in the winter.
I’ve often wondered the same thing about gray squirrel. From time to time I see him digging down in an open grass area and dropping an acorn into the hole and covering it. I assume he is doing more than being a tree farmer and planting oaks here and there. More likely he is stashing away some vittles for a hungry winter day. But finding it again with two feet of snow over it must be a hopeless prospect for the busy fellow. There is a certain kind of profligate character in nature that is heart-warming, like lots of acorns planted just for the good of it.
Ah! Here comes Tom Turkey at last, with two of his buddies. That lazy fellow, sleeping in like this and waiting for a bit of sun. Well, at least he announces that the day is upon us, and it is time to be out bread-winning.
James Alger, who lives in Fargo, N.D., has been a summer resident of the Leech Lake area with his family for over 45 years. Over that time he has grown to love and appreciate the people and the woodlands of this area.