January is back to its old self. Daytime temps are a seasonal 20 degrees, and Thursday and Friday showed nighttime lows of 8 to12 below zero.
I always save large chunks of firewood for nights like these. A few of them will burn slow, leaving a thick base of red-hot coals that will last through the night. Even at a comfortable 65 degrees, the floor still gets cold in this old school house. A few years ago, a good friend gave me a pair of leather-soled down slippers. If it wasnít for those slippers, my feet would suffer to no end. On cold winter nights, I will set the slippers near the stove to warm while I soak my feet in a pan of warm water and Epsom salts. Ah, the simple pleasures of life! When the water starts to cool, I dry my feet with a warm towel and tuck them into the toasty slippers. Sure, most people have easier ways to keep their feet warm, but thereís no denying how good it feels to do it my way.
It was warm enough to build a small snowman at the start of the week and Iím glad I built one when I did. I always like to roll at least one snow man through the winter, but up till now, there just hasnít been any snow. I like to see how long it takes him to melt away in the spring.
I enjoy doing a little detective work when I see animal tracks in the new snow. A flock of tree sparrows left their little patterns in the snow. They had been busy eating the tiny seeds from plants that stick out above a snowdrift. The tracks of a dozen little bird feet leave a pretty pattern in the snow.
A deer mouse left its tracks as it hopped through the snow on its way to the woodpile, came out the other side and headed for a nearby bird feeder. In fact, there were several lines of tracks coming and going from the brush pile. I think it was a good place for the little mouse to hide birdseed.
It snowed again Monday night, and yet there were fresh tracks from a gray squirrel that had crossed the yard at first light. I wondered if he was an early riser or had been out in the dark. I have seen gray squirrels out and about at night in the past, so it wouldnít surprise me.
It finally got cold enough to freeze the river in most places, and then the ice was soon covered by a blanket of snow. An otter left her playful tracks on the snow covered river. The fun that otters have in new snow is not unlike kids with a sled. Playtime on the ice and snow is one of the otterís favorite games. As it slides along headfirst, it leaves long furrows in the new white snow while simultaneously cleaning its beautiful, soft fur.
I always put a couple of handfuls of sunflower seeds out for the cardinals around sunset. They are the last birds at the feeders at the end of the day, and by then the birdseed is pretty much gone. It always amazes me how much more colorful the red cardinals and blue jays are against a backdrop of white snow.
I usually like to follow the rabbit tracks in the snow to see where they are hiding but this winter there are no rabbit tracks. I donít know where the bunnies are spending the winter, but for the first time in ten years, they arenít in this valley.
Food is where you find it for the white-tailed deer, and itís a bit more challenging for them to find something to eat after the snow comes. A doe finds lots of grass and flower tops to nibble on in a bare prairie meadow. Dried seed heads of blue stem and indian grass, along with the flower tops of brown-eyed Susans, bergamot, and cone flowers are all part of the deerís winter diet. So far the winter hasnít been too hard on the deer. Theyíre looking good, but thereís still a ways to go before spring brings them something green to eat. Until then Iíll watch them and follow their tracks in the snow.
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