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Recently I received several emails indicating my wildlife shots were not perfect. I should consider setting up a feeder or perch so the bird, squirrel, chipmunk etc., the subjects would not be surrounded by vegetation. In my mind if I wanted shots at feeders etc. I might as well go to the zoo everyday and take photos. I prefer to present the wildlife of Hot Springs National Park in the actual environment in which they live. No stagecraft, illusion or lures, they are living beings not puppets for me to control.
The icy climb to into the park continues, I am glad my arms are strong enough to pull me up the ice ramp. It is a cold day 26 feels like 21 degrees and I decide to move to the Carriage Road to get a bit of circulation going. When I arrive I am greeted by a Eastern Phoebe and a Female Cardinal. It is a lovely way to start any day in the park.
As I head up the Dead Chief Trail I can hear the call of a Red Bellied Woodpecker coming closer. I turn my head and see him sitting in the tree next to me. It is a sight that always makes me smile. I quickly make my way to the Short Cut Trail and I hear the mischievous woodpecker again. I turn to see him on a distant tree looking at me. I am being followed.
I can hear voices and laughter as two young men come in to view. Richard and Jerry are visiting from Paris, Texas and have been enjoying the ice and snow in the Park for the past two days.
When I reach the top of the mountain I can hear the call of another woodpecker but have yet to locate them so I head over to the Pagoda for my view shots. It is like grand central station for birds. I see my first flock of Blue Jays but they are in the distance weaving in and out of bushes. Both Male and Female Cardinals drop in for a quick visit, pecking in the snow and grass gathering up a meal. Jay calls Ring out and they are in trees all around me, they are in a playful mood as gather seeds for their breakfast. The call of a Pileated Woodpecker rings out and I am able to spot him on the distant tree. I feel so blessed to see so many beautiful birds on my hike today.
I promised Rick (my Beloved Fiance’) I would be home earlier today so I can rest up for hiking on the two big up coming snow days. This mean I need to move down the Hot Springs Mountain Trail and exit via the Peak or Honeysuckle Trails. The hike along the HSMT is always enjoyable, it has varied terrain, wildlife and climates. I can hear both woodpeckers and Jay calls as I move down the trail, they are both still following me. The air has warmed a bit and I am finding the paths easier to navigate, the snow is not as crunchy. As I reach the the lower section of the trail I see a cardinal chasing sparrows. The snow and ice are forcing birds out of their normal territories to battle for food. My heart sinks as think of the next snow fall and the stress it will put on resources for the wildlife in the park. The air was rapidly cooling and I noticed the once soft snow was becoming icy again.
When I reached the fork of the Honeysuckle and Hot Springs Mountain Trail the path was now a thick sheet of ice both directions. The trail had warmed and refroze in the 1 hour I had been hiking along the trail. Camera safely in it’s case, I picked up a broken limb that was a perfect walking sick with a sharp point that I could jam into the ice. As I looked down trying to decide how to proceed I noticed a set of deep prints frozen in the ice. Like Cinderella I slipped my boot into one then I stepped forward into the next, the boot fit and stride distance was doable. I was grateful and wished I could thank the hiker who had left me their footsteps in which to follow. Slowly I made my way down the Honeysuckle Trail concentrating on matching my stride to the prints and stabbing the ice with my stick so I would not slide. It was a slow agonizing descent.
I had never been happier to see the Fountain Street Trail, it took me directly to Hot Springs Mountain Road. Although I would have to carefully pick my way down on the dry patches it was not a thick sheet of ice. The miracle footprints went down the two sets of stairs and were even on the road edges. That was when the penny dropped, these were my footprints from Feb 08, the day I was in both a blizzard and a sleet storm. The frozen slushy Slurpee splashes that iced my pants were perfectly preserved by the hard freeze that night. I was the mystery hiker that had blazed a trail that I would need later.
The Universe was looking out for me.