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Unfound Riches

Yet, compared with a wretched little salmon stream and

its handful of scrawny creeks, these noble rivers

meant little. For in the Klondike Valley, gold lay more

thickly than on any other creek.

But white men sought gold along the Yukon

for a generation before they found it.


Pierre Berton

It is winter now, and the days are short. The rocky ledges lining Lake Superior are glazed with ice and are dangerous. It is a time of silence when the birds are scarce, and deer are not moving. There is little snow this year, and frost runs deep.

Thankfully, the lake is open, and sunlight dances across its waves as they move in from the southwest.

It is the month of Long Shadows. The snow is

tinged blue in places where balsam fir and

pine blocks the sun from penetrating.

Yesterday I filled our two bird-feeders with sunflower seeds, a staple of the nuthatch, pine siskin, the chickadee, and the occasional squirrel. They have yet to visit.

I suppose unfamiliarity means they no longer come here. It has been too long. Where once there was an abundance of food, it has been a long time since the feeders were full.

Either they have learned to seek out some other neighbor or they are hunkered down in the cold prepared to forage what they can from the forest on milder days.

I am impatient. I wait for them. I know, at

the first sign, one bird will tell another.

I think to myself, there will be rejoicing, but not yet. All is prepared, but this source of food is still undiscovered. I wonder how long it will be? I wonder if, for some, it will be too late?

I think about people who are depressed or people whose relationships have fallen on hard times. Here, winter is all too apparent. I think of those who forage as best they can, unaware of the riches that might be close by.

We don't think to look because experience

tells us there is nothing there.

We might have gone back to the source a time or two but have come away empty.

We may have grown cynical and think it is hopeless to believe life, or our connection with others could be this good again. The winter's cold can persuade us to hole up.

On days when temperatures dip far below zero, life appears motionless. Energy is at a premium and cannot be wasted.

If we are overrun with problems, we want to preserve what we have. We are limited in what we think we know. We hide out. We seek the safety of small places, often in the shadows, out of the wind.

This is what I am afraid of. The birds are used to flying over my little property, and for the long month of December, while I was gone, they have exhausted whatever seed was available. They might have returned once, maybe again, but then they might've given up and looked for other means to survive.

My experience is that often, as with my

bird-feeders, life replenishes itself.

Sometimes life can surprise us with something entirely new and unexpected. Sometimes we need to go back to what once made us happy, places where we have known deep satisfaction.

I think of that first bird who will come to the feast I have set out for them. How and why this is found, I will never know. I expect it might be by chance.

I would like to think these fragile wisps of feather

are on the hunt, not satisfied with

their place in the willows.

But when one of their kind spots that first seed, it discovers there are more, and the whole community of birds in the area are affected.

While the winter winds may not have changed, the birds receive what they need to get by, to perhaps make it through to the soft breezes of March and April. I will have had a hand in this. For that, I am grateful.

I will know that while I might provide for all they need, it is their stubborn persistence that has won the day. Life extends itself, but my efforts have only taken it so far.

The seeds were waiting but needed still to be discovered.

From the book "Compass Season"

available on Amazon or in local

Grand Marais bookstores.