Wacky Weather

The weeks before winter officially set in included balmy temperatures followed by frigid cold, which makes for unique experiences along Mill Creek.

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A mink on the ice along the creek.

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A great blue heron tests the December water at Mill Creek.

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A lesser yellow legs braves a near-frozen Rooks Park pond

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A full moon rises over Mill Creek.

Although the month started with near 40-degree temperatures and a pumpkin-colored full moon, December weather has been frightful along the popular Mill Creek dog-walking trail.

First came the single-digit days, with a 4-degree night or two, followed by a brief snow that led to freezing rain. A slight thaw brought mist, mud and fog along the trail.

Well, frightful weather or not, dogs and walkers (with a few joggers and bikers) persevered.

Although the month started with near 40-degree temperatures and a pumpkin-colored full moon, December weather has been frightful along the popular Mill Creek dog-walking trail.

First came the single-digit days, with a 4-degree night or two, followed by a brief snow that led to freezing rain. A slight thaw brought mist, mud and fog along the trail.

Well, frightful weather or not, dogs and walkers (with a few joggers and bikers) persevered.

Actually, Nora the Schnauzer insisted on her daily outing. Even on the nasty days, she met people who petted her and dogs that chased her (or, if small enough, that she chased).

I carried a camera to record the moonrise and sunset, the snow, the ice, the dogs and the wildlife.

Once a man yelled at me from across the creek and said an "ice funnel" had formed the day before above the bridge at Rooks Park.

"Is it still there?" I yelled back.

"Vestiges," he said and hurried on.

Sure enough, the funnel had crumbled, but the remaining chunks indicated where it had been.

On one of the freezing days a man who lives on Yellowhawk Creek said ice chunks caused the creek to rise, threatening to flood his yard and cistern. He had to check it on the hour all night.

That’s the day I stood on the bridge and pondered the ice-clogged stream. No water birds swam within sight.

Then through the gaunt trees of Rooks Park I could see a great white egret huddled on the berm at the dank pond.

Nora and I crept closer, although she couldn’t see the egret for the tall weeds.

"It should be in Florida," I whispered. "Or at least Texas."

Nora gave me her quizzical, or just blank, look.

The big bird ignored me and occasionally raised its wing to cover its face, as if protecting it from the cold.

Or hiding.

During that frightful-weather span, we saw several great blue herons on the ice. They stood in the stream when the ice started to melt. Once a mink slipped from the water and stood briefly on the ice before slipping away into the rip-rap.

Then, by mid-month, the temperature neared 60 degrees. Most of the snow and ice had faded away. I looked for the egret at the pond. It must have headed south after all.

In the water, however, a lesser yellowlegs dipped its long bill after water bugs. The water reflected its image, and I wondered if it noticed or cared.

At the stream, a female hooded merganser surfaced with a fish, or a sculpin, in its beak. A hapless and hungry male paddled along behind.

On the way back down the trail, I took photos of bright rose hips and a memorable sunset as Nora acted like spring had arrived.

Well, what did she know? The weatherman had forecast more frightful snow by morning.

If You Go

Rooks Park is about three miles east of Walla Walla. Only foot access is allowed during the winter, but parking at the gate off of Mill Creek Road is available. And parking is available near the project office, off of the Reservoir Road. The bicycle/walking path along the north side of Mill Creek begins near Kmart and ends after about 3 miles at Rooks Park.

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