A Winter Forecast1/7/2015
“The squirrel nests are high in the trees, have you noticed?”
My mail carrier is a fairly sane looking man. Not a youngster by any means. He hustles every day, working long hours, hanging on to a job that seems to be fading away before the ever-present digital devices. I see him often through my window, striding across lawns, sorting catalogues and letters, bills and newspapers, steadily walking as he works. An old plow horse. And so when he takes a moment to talk, I listen.
“Yup, the squirrel nests are high in the trees,” he says, as he looks skyward to the branches in the neighbor’s oak.
Well, so they are. What does it mean?
“The winter will be mild,” claims my mail carrier, with more than a smattering of wistful thinking.
A mild winter? Why not? Although predicting the weather all the way to next spring seems a little dicey. Particularly in Iowa. Particularly these days. Perhaps the squirrel nests are so high in order to avoid the upcoming flood waters. Who knows? Listen, you pay your money and take your chances when it comes to squirrels.
Downtown, the wind whips across the flat concrete parking lots and jumps over the open stretch of wide river. Cheers from Iowa Cub fans are nonexistent on this day. It’s the wrong time of year and just too cold. Multiple lines string out high above the water next to the stadium.
And there the birds gather.
“If you see large numbers of birds perching on power lines, look for a storm.” So says Emma Springfield of Nature Center Magazine. Really? But what if the birds are just resting and enjoying the view? A well-needed afternoon break. A siesta, right here in downtown Des Moines. But the birds aren’t talking. They just sit and stare at the skyline. Silently.
Don’t fret, there are even more signs for you to observe. The wooly bear caterpillar and its brown middle band, thin or thick. Cattle bunched together in a field. Rabbits fat in November. Roosters crowing during the midday. The list goes on and on. And I haven’t even jumped species to mention the ache in Aunt Martha’s knees.
The high grind of the tractor engine echoes off the partial walls of the new building going up on University Avenue in Windsor Heights. The motor is stilled. Stiffly, Jay Parker climbs out of the cab. A wry, smiling man with soft eyes in a weathered face.
“We come out of the ground with stuff so they can build on it. But we’ll be done after this job. The biggest problem is trying to keep it warm enough. You see, we do footings. And then everyone comes on top of our stuff.”
The outside construction season is coming to an end for Parker. It is unclear if that is a good or bad thing. Perhaps it is just the nature of things.
And what do you think the weather will be this winter?
“It’s going to turn out cold. Everybody’s going to be locked out of more work outside. Farmers Almanac said it’s going to be really cold. We’re going into single digits tomorrow. There might be some work going on, but I know we’re done.”
Parker and I both stomp our feet trying to stay warm as we talk. The cold wraps us in a blanket of quiet stillness. But there is no warmth. The air is clear and sharp and raw. Our toes and fingers are beginning to sting. It’s possible that Parker and I are the last survivors in the outdoors. Alone in the wild. On University Avenue.
I ask Parker if he’s freezing.
“Kind of. Are you?”
And we race to the warmth of our vehicles — unconcerned about tomorrow’s forecast. CV
Joe Weeg spent 31 years bumping around this town as a prosecutor for the Polk County Attorney’s Office. Now retired, he writes about the frequently overlooked people, places and events in Des Moines on his blog: www.joesneighborhood.com.