The winter wonderland I've been waiting for has finally arrived. In the past two days, 4-1/2 inches of powdery snow has fallen on the Kickapoo Valley. A color change over the brown landscape is welcome.
Last night I stood on the porch and enjoyed the stillness and the snowflakes coming down. Unlike rain, snow can come in the night and transform the landscape without making a sound. This evening the silence was broken by the soft hooting of a pair of Great Horned owls. They sing love songs to each other from up the wooded valley. Their gentle calls are music to my ears. I know that theirs is one of the first sounds of spring as they begin courtship. Soon the female owl will push the snow from the big stick nest that she used last year, and lay a pair of round white eggs. She will keep the eggs warm in spite of the cold and snow, until they hatch in about 3-1/2 weeks. During the incubation time, the male will catch food and present it to his lady-love at the nest. He may also keep the eggs warm for her when she needs a break. As I listen to the owls, I know that spring is whispering in my ear.
It's sunrise, and the wild birds are hungry. They kick up the snow in search of buried seed at the bird feeders. They are joined by several gray squirrels and a cotton-tailed rabbit. Subzero temperatures the night before have left them all very hungry. I almost expect to hear a knock on the door and find a bluejay standing there, telling me to get outside, clean the snow away from the feeders, and leave them some more food. Fortunately for them, they don't have to knock; because taking care of the bird feeders is the first thing I do every morning.
Once the snow has been cleared away and the sunflower seeds and cracked corn sprinkled here and there, the cardinals show up to get their share. There are 15 of them and their bright red coats standing out against the new white snow exaggerate their presence.
The little black juncos prefer to feed from the ground; they eagerly pick up little pieces of cracked corn. A pair of mourning doves land on a platform feeder, sending the blue jays flying. They are one of the few birds that have the respect of the jays. The doves are usually very shy, but not when it comes to getting a good spot at the feeder.
The birds all ate like they knew it would be extra cold tonight, and they were right. The temperature dropped to 20 below zero after dark; my breath lingered around my head like smoke. As I picked up an armload of firewood from the woodpile, I found myself wishing I had put on a jacket. At 20 above zero, it doesn't bother me much to be outside for 5 to 10 minutes without a coat, but at 20 below I quickly felt the bite. In spite of the cold, however, I wasn't in a hurry, because I wanted to absorb a little of this beautiful winter night. A bright moon lit up the yard, making the new snow sparkly with falling moonbeams. The stars seemed extra bright as they twinkled in the cobalt sky. I had no trouble seeing the cotton-tailed rabbit 30 yards away as he nibbled at seed under a bird feeder.
When it's this cold, I have to get up once during the night to put more wood in the stove. Even though I put a couple of extra blankets on my bed, the cold's nip wakes me like an alarm clock.
Early morning again, and crows pass high over the house, calling as they disappear over the ridge. Flying at 35mph into a north wind, the chill hitting their faces must be 60 below zero. The thought raises goose bumps on the back of my neck. These hardy black crows sure know how to humble a person. Time to go back in the house and cuddle up to the wood stove.
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