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At Home in the Woods: For the birds


Fri, Feb 28th, 2003
Posted in Columnists

One morning in early February, I saw a sharp-shinned hawk perched on one of our bird feeders. The sharp-shinned is a small agile woodland hawk whose favorite food is small birds. The feeder birds immediately disappeared into the nearby bushes.

I was just about to leave for Rushford to meet my friend Carol for a birding expedition, something we often do. Rushford is midway between her house in Winona and my house in the Big Woods. When I started out, the sun was shining and hundreds of horned larks were active along the roadsides. Horned larks begin to migrate through our area in February, a certain early sign of spring.

As I drove, a strong wind blew snow across the roads, but driving conditions were generally good. I was nervous because it was my first solo trip with our new (used) car. I was also remembering a snowy trip to Winona with my husband the previous Wednesday to give a talk about my book "At Home in the Big Woods" to the Hiawatha Valley Audubon Society.

The talk went well. Everyone was friendly and interested and I sold many books. But, the warm welcome I received stayed with me only until I went back outside into a heavy fall of snow with three or four inches already on the ground. The weatherman had said the snow would be light, but it was blinding and the roads were slippery. We drove cautiously in our new car. We were both remembering a trip I had taken to Winona the week before in similar snowy conditions.

I had gone to Winona to sell some books. It was snowing, but the weatherman had promised it would soon stop. When I walked into the two bird supply stores in Winona, the owners greeted me with enthusiasm. They eagerly bought books for their stores; they already had signs posted about the talk I was going to give the next week. I started home feeling good about my success.

It was still snowing, however, and the roads were becoming slippery. When I finally reached our township road only three miles from home, I began to relax, but not for long. At the bottom of our last steep hill, my car slid sideways off the road into the ditch, rolled onto its side and turned upside down. A rock went through the roof, just missing my head. I didn't see any blood and I could move my legs and arms, so I turned off the car, crawled out and walked home. As I walked, I called "Help!" into a silent white universe.

When I reached home, Art took one look at me, realized I wasn't hurt and immediately turned his attention to the car. When he and our friend Erik returned to the scene of the accident, our Big Woods neighbors, Heidi and Phil Dybing were there anxiously looking to see if I was still in the car. Later, a wrecker pulled the car out of the ditch and towed it home.

The next day, we set out on a search for a different car. On our way, we made a stop at Haugan's Pharmacy in Preston. Everyone there already knew about my accident.

On that morning in early February when I went to meet Carol in Rushford, snow was forecast for late in the day, but I expected to be home long before it began. On our birding expedition, we found a golden eagle, two red-tailed hawks engaged in courtly activity and the usual assortment of small wintertime birds.

Just as we were about to return to Rushford, it began snowing. By the time I was in my own car again, the snow and wind were causing white-out conditions. The ride home was a nightmare. My car was like a tomb with me the only person in its muffled world.

When I came close to the scene of my accident, I slowed to a crawl. Finally, I arrived home, shaken, but safe. The first thing I noticed was that the birds were out of food. When I went to feed them, the sharp-shinned hawk flew past me so close that 0I could hear the sound of its wings. Half an hour later, the sun came out.

Nancy Overcott is the author of the recently published book "At Home in the Big Woods." She can be reached at bigwoods@acegroup.cc or 507-743-8584.

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