The autumn-like weather did a full reverse on Wednesday when winter finally returned. One day it was 40 degrees and sunny, and the next day it was 20 degrees with four to five inches of new snow on the ground. Itís time to get a little more serious about keeping warm. The old Kickapoo woodstove seems to get more hungry when the temperature drops to zero at night. Keeping the stoveís appetite for firewood satisfied becomes a daily chore. Carrying in firewood is just part of the deal, along with extra water to carry from the spring. When itís cold, five gallons of water a day will evaporate from the kettle I keep on top of the woodstove. With the snow, comes the shoveling, first a path from the house to the spring. I donít like the path to the spring to be slippery when carrying pails of water. Besides, I donít mind shoveling.
That old stove sucks a little air around the door now, but it has kept me warm for 25 winters. I canít imagine how many times Iíve opened and close that stove door or how many logs it has digested over the years. I bring in five to six pickup loads of hardwood each year. That adds up to 150 loads in 25 years. It would probably be easier to spend the winter in Florida, but I would miss the Wisconsin winters, not to mention that old woodstove. Theyíve both become a part of who I am, I guess.
There are few summer days with weather bad enough to keep me inside. It has to be raining cats and dogs or just plain too hot. I donít spend nearly as much time outside in the winter, but I guess Iím not the only one who prefers to stay close to the woodstove when the temperature is below freezing.
Cold and snowyóa good day to hang out in the house and catch up on some things that needed to get done. It was a chance to take some pictures of the world outside my windows. A fancy female red-bellied woodpecker is just one of about 30 woodpeckers that visit the suet feeder. Sheís so pretty that I couldnít help taking her picture. The red-bellied woodpeckers come to the birdfeeders all year round and are as colorful in the winter as they are in summer. They usually get first choice of the best places at the feeders. Even the blue jays stand aside for woodpeckers. The only birds that donít give way to them are the mourning doves that usually can be seen picking up pieces of cracked corn from the snow covered ground. When they have finished eating, they like to fly up on a branch and preen their feathers in the sunshine.
The blue jays always seem to be busy, never staying in one place for very long. It makes it a little hard to take their picture and they always are on the lookout for danger or food. The crafty jays are always looking out for each other, and often they will have a couple of sentinels perched high in the branches. They are closely related to crows and ravens and share many of the same social habits.
A bright red male cardinal isnít nearly as shy as the jays and eats sunflower seeds at the window feeder. There are about a dozen male and female cardinals who come to the feeders each day. They also tend to stick together for safetyís sake and are the first to show up at the feeders at first light. The beautiful red birds are also the last ones to leave the feeder at the very end of the day. In fact, they usually donít leave until itís nearly too dark to see them.
The little white breasted nuthatches may be the busiest of all the feeder birds. They prefer to spend their time alone, searching the tree branches for small insects and spiders that sleep under the loose bark. The nuthatches avoid each other rather than flock together like other birds. They have their own unique personalities, making them one of the more interesting birds to watch from the window.
Juncos seem to get along with each other, as well as with most of the other birds that join them on the ground under the feeders. They will leave to fly further north come spring, and I wonít see them again until next fall. They are the only birds at the feeders that wonít spend the summer here, so I enjoy them while I can.
The white tailed deer have become a little more active in the valley since the snow came. I see them every day from the windows. This morning they pawed through the snow searching for fallen crab apples. The snow has made it a little harder for them to find something to eat on the ground, although they are hardly starving. A doe walks slowly through the woods, stopping often to nibble the leaf buds on any shrub within reach. If the snow doesnít melt until March, the deer will make their living browsing on tender young branches and buds.
It would be a very long winter indeed if there were no wildlife to watch. I never forget how blessed I am to have the wild animals and birds just outside the window. They are my friends and neighbors. Without them, the long winter would be unbearable.
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