NATURE NARRATIVES: Nature’s surprises in 2012

By Melissa Walker
       At the beginning of 2013, I am reflecting upon the many gifts and surprises of nature. Fortunately, I often record some of these in writing or with my camera. Others are so fleeting that, as Ann Zwinger has written, they stay “only long enough to be remembered.”

Samples of nature's surprises... A Valentine that someone had cleared in the snow.
Melissa Walker photo

       When I began writing my Nature Narratives blog almost three years ago, I chose the following quote by Ann Zwinger as the theme - always something new to discover. In her book, “Beyond the Aspen Grove,” Ann observed, “There will always be something new to discover: a minute moss never found before, a rabbit eating birdseed with the birds on a hungry November day, a bittern that stays only long enough to be remembered.”
       Nature surprised me many times in the past year. I have selected some of my favorite discoveries of 2012 to share today, while I anti-cipate new surprises for 2013.
       Red Fox Pups (as described in my blog and in Nature Narratives in the Westside Pioneer June 28): In the afternoon, I spotted three fox pups just by driving down a shady street in an old Colorado Springs neighborhood. The juvenile foxes were fending for themselves, at least for a while, as no adult foxes were in sight. The adults were probably away from the den hunting for food for their fast-growing pups. One pup was lounging in the cool grass, while the other two reminded me of periscopes as they poked their heads out of two different holes in a broken sidewalk. A space under an old sidewalk had become a home for this family of red foxes.
       The Volunteer Peach Tree: One mid-summer morning, I noticed a soft orange globe in the middle of our backyard aspen grove. From my kitchen-window vantage point, I was too far away to clearly see the object. Going outside to investigate, I laughed out loud as I discovered a beautiful, velvety peach growing on a very spindly tree. A squirrel must have taken a peach pit from our compost and dropped it in the shady aspen grove, not an ideal place for a peach tree to grow. But grow it did. I waited for the peach to ripen for about 10 days, then plucked it for an afternoon snack. Yum!

Samples of nature's surprises... A great blue heron in a ponderosa tree.
Melissa Walker photo

Samples of nature's surprises... A tasty treat from a spindly volunteer peach tree.
Melissa Walker photo

       A Great Blue Heron: September is the month for prospecting for the shimmering gold of autumn aspen leaves. Less showy, but also beautiful, are the russet and orange colors of the cattails, grasses and willows. While hiking north of Woodland Park between a meadow of tawny grasses and a ponderosa forest near Manitou Lake, a pale blue shape in a pine tree caught my eye. Perched on a branch of a ponderosa was a great blue heron! The long-legged heron looked so out-of-place, yet it really wasn't, as the lake was nearby. I simply had never seen a great blue heron in a ponderosa before.
       An Early Valentine: On the last day of 2012, my husband and I took advantage of a partly cloudy Sunday afternoon to look for waterfowl and white-tailed deer at Fountain Creek Regional Park. The ponds had already frozen over, so we didn't see the ducks and geese we'd expected. We did see a small herd of white-tailed deer, instead of the mule deer that we usually see on hikes in Colorado's foothills and mountains. As we circled around one of the snow-covered ponds, a heart shape appeared at the pond's edge. Someone had brushed away the snow to create an unexpected Valentine - a symbol of love that seemed to embrace the end of the old year, and the beginning of a new one.

A Westside naturalist, Walker posts regular entries in her online blog at She has given her permission to reprint selected pieces in the Westside Pioneer.