By Bruce Stambaugh
Normally, January is not one of Ohio’s more colorful months. I suppose residents all across North America could say that.
White and brown tend to be the dominant January color scheme here. It’s white if it snows, and basic brown on the bare ground if it doesn’t. Not exactly stuff of which calendar pictures are made.
With that introduction, I was going to write about how depressing it is to see the naked landscape during the winter months. I had my list of the usual suspects at the ready. The lack of color, the repetitive cloudy, dull days entombed with hard to breathe frigid air and the proverbial cabin fever all contributed to the annual epidemic of post-holiday let-down.
I had no sooner started to write when I received an email from a friend. She had attached several pictures of a swamp walk they had just taken in the backwaters of the Killbuck Creek near Killbuck, Ohio.
Most of the shots included the smiling couples that made the trek. I had a sneaky feeling their joy wasn’t just flashed for the camera. There seemed a deeper reason for their cheerfulness.
Though I did talk with my friend and her husband about their walk, the pictures really said it all. They revealed abundant beauty amid the wintry habitat of the marsh.
Buttonbush berries in varying auburn colors and stages of fermentation decorated the burnished host shrubs. By winter’s end, numerous types of wildlife, deer, turkey, robins and cedar waxwings among them, will have devoured the nutritious fruit.
Behind a stand of some of the bushes, a blackish mound covered in tan sticks rose out of the mostly frozen water. The occupants of the beaver’s den were likely deep into their season’s sleep, unaware of their human visitors.
The pictures showed my friends walking on the marsh’s frozen surface, or posing for candid memories to be shared with friends and family. A rainbow of muted colors helped create their smiles.
The ice itself varied both in texture and color, ranging from off-white to clay gray. Nature’s arsenal of elements, wind, temperature, snow, and water flow all play a role in the seemingly dormant, yet ever-changing marshy environment.
Behind the low lying swamp, the rounded western foothills of the Appalachian Mountains jutted up like giant loaves of fresh baked bread. Clusters of pines served as a brief but green piedmont between the two.
At that point, a familiar fragrance distracted me from the pictures. I followed my nose into the kitchen to find pan after pan of fresh out of the oven cinnamon rolls cooling on the counter tops. Beside them, tins of golden-topped potato rolls also stood patiently cooling.
In addition, rows of jelly jars filled with cobalt colored blueberry topping for homemade pancakes and waffles sparkled from the light that filtered through the kitchen window. Smaller jars of crimson apple jelly added to the colorful collection next to the stove.
While I had sat sulking listlessly at the computer, bemoaning the dull days and confined activities, my energetic wife and thoughtful friends infused me with unexpected splashes of color. My smile nearly matched those of my friends in the swamp walk photos.
Inspired by digital pictures, picture perfect baked goods and showy glass jars, I realized that the blahs of January were self-induced. If I desired color in my life during the cabin fever time of year, all I really needed to do was to open my eyes.