Thinking back to early October on Presque Isle when the foliage was brilliant and just beginning to drift to the floor of the woods and trails of the park, it is difficult to remember the exact day I first noticed that many of the leaves were encrusted with thin delicate ice crystals. Now, we all know that this is the time of year the birds begin leaving for warmer climates to escape Erie’s frosty winter. I have many friends and clients, who also head south or west for many of the same reasons. This migration will continue until all the snowbirds, both human and avian, have all departed by early January.
Around the same time that this happens, the number of runners, walkers, and bikers on Presque Isle drops rapidly. You can now walk on the park almost anytime and enjoy a quieter, less crowded world. Some of this is due to the snowbirds, and some just due to the colder weather that is expected.
An example of one of my winter trips to Presque Isle is a recent visit which I made to the Horseshoe Pond area. On similar visits to the pond, before this real winter weather decided to visit, I had heard birdlike chirping coming from the woods and shore areas near the pond. Being the true sloth I have become, I’ve tried several times to sneak up on and identify the noisy critters. The noise
maker, “being smarter than a 70-year-old,” went silent as soon as I thought I might be getting close.
So far, the only solid fact that I have been able to prove to myself is that the critters are hiding directly on the ground. One or two times, I have felt that I was almost close enough to step on whatever was hiding in the grass and brush; then, with my next tiny step, all went silent. I could see nothing. I am, at least, sure of one thing. It is not a bird. A bird would have taken flight or run though the grass if someone came that close.
Back in 1884, naturalist/writer John Burroughs wrote about working to trace a similar sound he heard while walking near his home in upstate New York in December. He found, after days of chasing the sound, that it was a wood frog. The problem I have with that is that I did not think wood frogs lived on Presque Isle. I guess it is time to check with the experts about that. Today, the chirping is silent, so if it was a frog of some sort of frog, it, has surely gone into its winter’s sleep.
As any of you who have visited the Horseshoe Pond area know, it is rather small, and its pure emptiness today as I worked my way along its shoreline brought a wonderful moment of solitude to my hectic life. The houseboats looked solemn and lonely sitting there at their moorings. Stillness drifted over the landscape, and the whole panorama that stretched out before me gave me a feeling of peace, and my spirit was majestically and magically renewed. Today’s overarching silence here on the pond had a strange indefinable quality that calmed the nerves and soothed the soul. Over the years, I have found that artists have always be drawn here to search for its secrets and capture its beauty.
With the winter’s first-lake effect snow warning in place, the park is quiet. A 15 -20 mph wind is whipping down the lake with gusts up to 28 mph. Coming in off the lake from the NNW definitely brings a cold crispness of to the air. However, it strangely also brings a feeling of newness to the day.
When I talk to my clients about going to Presque Isle in the winter, I often get bewildering looks and comments. Some think those of us who go to the park during the winter are definitely crazy. Many basically ask about going there in bad weather. I usually use a standard answer to those questions. There is no such thing as bad weather on the park; there is just the wrong clothing.
The light thin snowflakes driving in from the NNW and Lake Erie are lodging themselves all over my coat. If I am careful and look closely, I can see the individual flakes as they cling on my arm. They consist of beautiful star crystals, perfect little wheels, which always have six impeccable leaflets. Thoreau called these frozen ice crystals, “Snow Stars.”
Turning around in my travels, I slowly begin to make my way back toward the warmth of the car. The cold gathers around me. As I walk, I celebrate the strength of the ordinary, except recognize that the ordinary usually turns out to be exceptional.
By migrating south and west, the snowbirds get to play golf, be a bit warmer and not have to bother with heavy winter jackets; however, they miss the extraordinary adventures: beauty and unsullied peace that Presque Isle offers its visitors in the winter. Presque Isle is truly, “A Place for All Seasons.”
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