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A frosty picnic and opossum sighting

Some folks host elves on their shelves for Christmas. I opted for a New Year opossum.

Optimistic? Opossum? Get it?

Don’t leave yet. While shopping in Scheffel’s the other day, a small opossum looked down from on high and stole my heart. Let me clarify, in case you haven’t had your coffee, this is a plush possum. I would suggest that I’m launching into second childhood, but in my case, I’ve lost count of the number of trips. Anyway, Lane named the newcomer Piper. Piper Possum is slated to become my version of the traveling gnome once travel resumes. Look for future adventures with her.

Possums get a bad rap (not wrap, which sometimes occurs in Arkansas). The little rat-like foragers eat ticks, fleas, snails, slugs and other pests. The following is taken from vetmed.illinois.edu. “The humble Virginia opossum, America’s only marsupial, kills nearly 95% of ticks that cross their path. It is estimated that a single opossum is capable of eating an estimated 5,000 ticks every season.” With ticks mounting a conquest for humanity’s blood, we should think twice before killing or running over one of these little pest eliminators.

Speaking of optimism, I made a trip to charming Ashland yesterday. The plan was to pick up Lane in Talent, grab some takeout from one of many great eateries there, and repas en plein air. We would locate a bench within lush Lithia Park surrounds and breathe some different scenery.

Now, I know it can be windy in Ashland. It helps cool things off nicely in summer and is often more tolerable than other valley locations in the heat of the day. I saw sunshine, and my imagination conjured a picture of bright hopes.

We found a parking space right off. Our spirits soared. When we exited the car, masks in place, I realized that sun doesn’t warm nearly as well in the shade. 48 degrees felt like 38 with the wind chill. I’m not one to back down once my mind is made up, and I certainly don’t want to discourage anyone. It is doable, just be sure to dress like Ralphie’s brother Randy in “A Christmas Story.”

We walked up to Louie’s window, where they have perfected the takeout system. Their menus are outside. We rang the bell for service, and a friendly, masked employee appeared on the spot. We placed our order and sought refuge from the breezes inside an alcove. I ordered an organic Thai chicken peanut bowl with marinated, flame-grilled, local hormone-free chicken, wrapped with shredded cabbage, red onion, carrots and beet laces, cilantro and toasted coconut flakes. They served this chill-chasing deliciousness with sides of sweet chili and Thai peanut dipping sauces.

Lane had the organic grilled wild Alaskan salmon sandwich — a whole fillet, flame-grilled and prepared with fresh sliced tomatoes, lettuce and chipotle aioli on a toasted local ciabatta roll. We were famished.

We leaped in the car with aid of a wind gust and drove to the first sunny spot we found in the park. Let me just say, with the sun setting at 4:30 these days, we hadn’t done the math. No sooner had we spread the cow blanket and begun eating than jolly old Sol ducked behind the hills. The food was excellent. It was simply that icicles forming around my nostrils were distracting. We might have looked strange out there picnicking on the lawn and making it look plausible, but only a few passers-by seemed to take note.

After lunch, we drove farther into Lithia Park, where Lane showed me the Swimming Hole, a small reservoir above the old dam on Lithia Creek. No, we didn’t. Elevation rises quickly as one progresses. We sidestepped iced-over puddles and respected the many frosty places. The temperature had dropped to 39 in a matter of minutes. Lithia Park has wonderful nature trails. Visit ashlandtrails.com, a comprehensive, user-friendly site for information about winter trails in Ashland.

Winter picnics have an allure all their own. Bundle up, remember hot cocoa, and enjoy!

Peggy Dover is a thawed freelance writer. Reach her at pcdover@hotmail.com.