In Washington, winter kills not so much as it clarifies.It is a sparse season only for the faithless, who cannot sense the abundance of warm bodies about them. Coolly confident, snapping turtles snuggle in the mud under a skin of creek ice; insect larvae await reincarnation inside egg cases deposited on rough bark; red-backed salsmanders sleep under logs; brown bats hibernate in hollows of trees.
Wintering on the rim of Rock Creek Park, where the forest spills like fiords into embankments of townhouses, eastern gray squirrels leap from the trees of heaven to steal seeds from bird feeders.
The opossom shuffles down the alley, ignoring the cat and Mr. Merrifield's chow dog. She snuffles under the feeder along with the smallest of field mice, hiding under the dried remains of the marigolds. Only the rat is an unwelcome guest during this cold time.
"You need a B.B. gun," says a neighborhood artist, who uses hers to sting the rumps of the raccoons who visit her plastic pond, eat the fish, swim and, come spring, make love with loud, splashy abandon.
Two titmice have arrived to share the banquet at Mrs. Bowerman's feeder with the ubiquitous sparrows, some purple-colored finches and a pair of Carolina chickadees. And pigeons -- not local birds at all, but misbegotten imports of the kudzu kind -- try to force their gross bodies inside her ranch-style feeder.
Steaming joggers run up the staircase and past the feeder, startling the pigeons and scattering the field mice and shrews living under the snow and leaf litter piled beside walkways overgrown with ivy.
Moles, owls, turtles, wild turkeys and muskrat abound further afield. And park rangers claim that even a rare red fox -- a breed imported from Europe for hunting in the last century -- or a white-tailed deer can be seen sometimes in the more secluded northern end of Rock Creek.
Mrs. Bowerman's son says the last deer near his end of the park was killed by a commuter last year over by Pierce Mill. That was the day he followed a mother wood duck -- they're prettier and rarer than mallards -- walking up the Harvard Street hill, trailed her all the way up to Mt. Pleasant and 16th Streets, where she turned right and went down to the next block, finishing her constitutional and returning to the creek via Hobart Street.
Crows like to sit on the lamppost where they can look down the hill into the zoo. A park ranger says they may have to take down the bird feeders there because the shiny black monsters are attacking the smaller birds at mealtimes. Nothing against crows, but nut-hatches and kinglets don't caw.
Mockingbirds don't mock in the winter either. Sometimes they just whimper a little to let you know they're feeling a bit grumpy because it's so darn cold come February.