The first time I walked around Yellowstone, I felt like I’d entered another world. I would imagine any of you who have visited the national park experienced similar feelings of awe and wonder. I’d seen pictures but nothing can compare with actually hearing the bubbling mud pots and spouting geysers, experiencing the rotten-egg sulphur smell caused by dissolving minerals, and seeing the amazing blues, greens and pinks of Morning Glory Pool. I thought of Yellowstone as a secret world because it was one I’d never discovered before. I’ve had similar secret world experiences while exploring other spectacles in nature.
After a tour guide brought my family and me down into Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave, I once again felt like I’d entered a secret world. Tapered stalactites and stalagmites, underground waterfalls, and pools that amazingly provided the habitat for eyeless fish and albino cave shrimp created a world I’d never imagined before.
I had a similar thought the first time I donned snorkel gear and dunked into a Wisconsin lake. All of these years I’d been admiring only the top of the lily pads with their white or yellow flowers. Now I could see how the stems, in their gorgeous shades of red, orange and green, swayed like dancers in the current. The dance of the lily pads mesmerized me, but when a school of small mouth bass circled me and then stared into my eyes, I couldn’t believe my luck. How marvelous to have discovered this world.
Today I head outdoors with my grandsons on a snowy northern Wisconsin adventure and have the chance to contemplate the secret world under the snow. I see where a mouse-sized animal has pushed under the snow leaving a raised path showing where it had traveled. I wonder if it was made by a mouse, mole, shrew or vole. Was it searching for seeds, roots, bark or insects?
Shovels in hand, my grandsons and I head toward a huge snow pile and begin digging. I find it works well to sometimes claw at the snow with my hands like I imagine our tunnel maker must have done. Family members help and after our hard work, we have both a tunnel and a snow cave. I bring out battery-powered candles and set them inside the tunnel hoping my grandsons will sit inside with me. We could cuddle together like a family of mice wanting to stay warm, but they’re too active. They leave me to toss snowballs into the air so the dog can catch them.
I settle in by myself and think back to the creature that made the tunnel. Animals such as mice, voles, and weasels do well living in the subnivean zone especially if the ground isn’t frozen. Its warmth melts the snow closest to it, leaving a layer of air to make travel easy. The snow acts like insulation and the temperature stays close to 32°F.
Living under the snow would have dangers. Owls, coyotes, and foxes have such keen senses of hearing that they could detect movement and zero in on prey. If discovered, the small creatures have to try to escape by diving deeper into their secret world.
I hear my grandsons calling to me, and I crawl out of my snow tunnel. I walk closer to the woods and notice a nibbled sapling. I call to my grandsons and we search more carefully. We spot cottontail tracks and follow them to discover a huge brush pile. I get down on all fours and peer inside. Hmm, looks like yet another secret world.