Prairie Ramblings Episode
8:00 pm
Fri January 3, 2014

Winter Morning Shadow Plays

Credit nps.gov

One of my favorite childhood memories or maybe even adult memories involves casting finger shadows of rabbits, birds, and other creatures onto a blank wall. One morning, I noticed Mother Nature playing her own shadow games on Big Creek below my kitchen window.On weekend mornings, I look forward to seeing what sorts of fun the “old girl” can concoct using barren branches, agile squirrels, and flitting birds.

A number of factors played into this shadow extravaganza.  First of all, we had water in the creek that winter so there was something to reflect scampering critters.  Also, the creek hadn’t frozen for long periods due to unseasonably warm temperatures that winter, which sharpened the mirror-like effect on the creek. Next, the red line on the thermometer recorded mornings chilly enough to invigorate the squirrels and birds, but not so cold as to force them into still, huddled efforts to preserve energy.

The air also seemed to be unnaturally clear—no fog, no mist, no moisture of any kind to obscure the reflected images. Finally, weekends provided me time to be home around 8:30 a.m. when the sun arrived in just the right spot to silhouette sharply a myriad of cottonwood, ash, and locust shadows onto the creek.

What I saw when I looked out the window onto Big Creek was an unusual circus.  Shadows of furry, acrobatic figures chased one another from one darkly silhouetted high branch to another up and down the bank. The shadow creatures seemed to fly as they leapt across open space. I suspected the previous May’s tornado had opened more space than the squirrels were used to based on some of the stretches they made as they vaulted from one landing to another. 

Those gaps didn’t faze them as they launched themselves from limb to limb across spaces that spanned distances of about 300 feet. They blasted off across open territory with the fearlessness of the Flying Wallenzas. 

Every now and then I spied one of the reflected creatures performing a flip or winding itself artfully around a branch to enhance its routine. Working in tandem, several choreographed a chase scene to rival the breathtaking chase in The Thomas Crown Affair.  In addition to the reflections of diving, leaping, twirling squirrels, shadows of big and little birds hovered and darted in and out of the shadow scenes. Where to look first became my morning challenge. Who cared about coffee?

I don’t know how I missed this show on previous weekend mornings unless that year’s presentation had more to do with the combined actors previously mentioned—unnaturally warm temperatures and lack of moisture in the air to provide clarity we wouldn’t normally see on a winter morning.  Whatever the reasons, I recorded this shadow play in my memory banks so I can sit back on future mornings and smile at the antics of frisky squirrels turning somersaults in my mind.   

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