Feasting on silence

The Nature Call: A cold, quiet morning along the Wapsi

The subnivean tunnels of field ice on a cold morning along the Wapsi River. (John Hanson/community contributor)
The subnivean tunnels of field ice on a cold morning along the Wapsi River. (John Hanson/community contributor)

Editor’s note: John Lawrence Hanson, Ed.D., of Marion teaches U.S. history with an emphasis on environmental issues at Linn-Mar High School and sits on the Linn County Conservation Board. This is Part 2 of a two-part series about enjoying nature’s silence. 

“Each soft mist-cloud is a soul,

Wafted back to carry warning

To the dreamer on his knoll,

Charging him to keep each morning.”

— Jay G. Sigmund

Boxing Day found me near the banks of the Wapsi River and under a canopy of predawn stars. The weather service said the air temp was minus-6 degrees at the airport. It gave me courage to think it was colder here in northeast Linn County.

I appealed to the Greater Power to hurry the sun, knowing full well my request would be ignored. The bitter temperature and low angle made any hope for solar warmth moot anyway. Daylight would only bring windchill and glare. For now I listened and heard a massive and chilled silence.

The snow squeaked to the point of complaint under my boots. My toes quit their protesting quickly as they went numb. Frost grew on my eyelashes. A distant bovine moaned. Now and then trees popped and cracked like gunshots, though feeble and less violent.

Inky darkness gave way to a hopeful shade of gray. Cardinals and Chickadees awakened. The late poet Jay G. Sigmund, who grew up along the Wapsi in the late 1800s, knew those sounds and silence. Yet there were voices afield I anticipated that poor Sigmund never heard along this ribbon of life.

Whitetail deer and wild turkey are among the creatures repatriated to the Wapsi. Human avarice eradicated them, as well as the playful otter and gustatory Trumpeter Swan. Since, human morality and democratic instrumentality brought them back. How might have they found themselves in Sigmund’s words?

I crossed subnivean tunnels of field mice, protection from the cold and the hawk. These mice were undoubtedly seen by Sigmund, too. Though we’ve never heard their labors. Even the silence here can’t overcome the weakness of the human ear. But along the banks of the Wapsi, the silence still is enough for the fox and owl to make out the diminutive tunnelers. The Great Power sensures everything eats. Today no deer succumbed to my shot and then fork. Rather I feasted on silence.

“Such a cool grave for the rest

Of a world-whipped, tired rover

Silver mist-clouds for his breast

When his last black night is over.”

— Morning Mists On The Wapsipinicon” by Jay G. Sigmund

Looking up, looking ahead, and keeping my pencil sharp.



Editor's note: Brandon Caswell has undergraduate degrees in biology, anthropology and geology. He enjoys bird-watching and nature photography. He helps instruct introductory and advanced courses in environmental science and geosci ...

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