This morning I dressed in layers and drove to Steinberg Rink in Forest Park.
There, mounds of snow were unmelted. As I entered the walking path, I noticed signs that warned parts of the trail might be closed due to a "prescribed burn" of the Steinberg Prairie.
Sniffing the air, I did smell the residual smoky and char-coaled remains from the fire pits at the South end of Steinberg Rink, but no evidence of burning on the prairie. I circled the lake, observing waterfowl out for their early morning swim: Canada geese, mallards, and wood ducks. The chickadees were sassing each other in the shoreline trees.
Suddenly, I stopped: a male and a female bluebird clung to some branches just over my head. The flashes of red through the branches beyond were male cardinals, but what was that red blob near the ground?
Detouring from the path and walking into the grove of ancient Chinese mulberry trees, I was surprised to see a tee-pee of sticks with a red heart. Beside it were two tea candles. Who had put the Valentine in front of the oldest tree?
Continuing my walk back to the car, I stopped again to listen to the unmistakable calling of two male red-winged blackbirds. Traditionally this is one of the most reliable harbingers of Spring: male red-wings "scout" their territories and arrive two weeks before the females.
In St. Louis, this Northward migration usually takes place at the end of February or beginning of March.
Today was February 9th and the scouts were already here! I scanned the treetops and finally spotted two males having a vocal duel at the top of a young sycamore tree. Thoroughly chilled to the bone, I turned on the heater in my car. I drove to the nearby Highlands. I finished the field trip with a great cup of coffee at Comet Coffeehouse.