The snow is deep. The lake is iced over. The springs flow on.
Stevens Spring is barely a trickle but the warmth of the ground water and its radiant heat seems to be enough to keep the immediate stream channel free of snow.
Down at the springs this afternoon, all was quiet, except for the bubbling and trickle of spring flow and the territorial calls of the northern cardinals, who have just begun to sing in the early morning. I heard the neighborhood cardinal for the first time this winter at just before 8am this morning. The timing of the cardinal’s song tracts the lengthening days, with the chorus starting earlier each day.
It seems the cardinal is the first to call each morning, followed by the black-capped chicadee and then the American robin. No robins were seen this afternoon but I suspect they are across Lake Wingra at the Arboretum’s Big Spring with the abundant berry supply on buckthorn trees.
Raccoons, and whitetail deer–along with squirrels, rabbits, and the rare possum–frequent the springs area because of the abundant food, shelter, and freshwater supply. I did not see any deer this afternoon but their tracks were everywhere, leading from the springs to the conifers in the nearby horticultural garden, and then on to residential gardens with their lush plantings of evergreens in the Nakoma neighborhood.
Springs are embedded in complex ecosystems, comprised of various plant community types. Above we see a cattail marsh, open water, shrub carr, ( a type of shrub meadow), lowland floodplain forest; nearby is sedge meadow, fen, and Lake Wingra itself.
The springs with their up-welling groundwater, coming from some deep, unknown and unknowable place, are themselves magical. Beyond that, the environment of the springs is a keyhole view into the past; perhaps the nearest we can approach to an imagining of what the undisturbed landscape looked like and how it functioned. An irreplaceable resource.