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Days of Winter

Years ago, I began writing what I hoped to turn into four middle-grade children’s picture books representing the four seasons. The setting for each story was the same, an abandoned farmstead and its surroundings. That project never went anywhere, as the text did not lend itself to easy graphic depiction, but here is what I wrote about the winter season: DAYS OF WINTER Throughout the woodlands shriveled leaves of mottled brown lie scattered and the bony limbs of trees hang bare. A rusting weather vane atop a decaying barn flutters and creaks as a brisk, shifting breeze pushes through, then swoops low to ruffle wild-grown fields. Overhead, a murky sky releases from its gray folds elegant flakes of crystal white. The days of winter have begun. The snow falls gently at first, then rapidly intensifies. Within hours the snow-caked arms of evergreen trees begin to droop, and the pressing snow strains the sagging roof of a long-abandoned farmhouse. In the nearby fields, only the tips of autumn grass and scrub brush remain visible above the rising snow tide. By snowfall’s end the shape of the surrounding land has softened, its rugged contours smoothed over with a deep and delicate frosting of pristine white. Within days tracks appear, scratching and dotting the downy fields. A single path, freshly made, indicates the passing of a leaping snowshoe rabbit. Not far away, near a safe, snug burrow, tiny furrows scribbled in the snow reveal a field mouse’s recent journeys. In the nearby woods, crisscrossing trails mark the busy movements of deer, squirrels, and others searching for a satisfying meal in the barren forest. The days move forward. Snow falls and again recoats the land; the trails disappear. When the skies clear, a cold front moves in. Near the abandoned farm, three white-tailed deer pause while forging a fresh path across a field. Alert, with tails up, they sniff the crisp air. The pungent scent of wood smoke from a distant farmhouse chimney causes no alarm; they journey on. In the nearby woods, chickadees chatter and flit from branch to branch, seeking nourishment to sustain them through the frigid day. The rat-a-tat sound of a downy woodpecker adds accompaniment. Nearby, a solitary moose exhales a fine mist as she plods cautiously through the deep snow. High above her, perched on a poplar limb, a great horned owl rests, waiting for dusk to begin hunting its dinner. Winter progresses and the days grow short. On a moonless night, northern lights dance across a starlit sky as a single gray wolf races down a frozen, snow-topped riverbed. Its prey, a varying hare, dodges left then right—and escapes. Winter moves on. One day, from the west, heavy clouds drift in and clog the sky. The wind shifts, pushing out of the northwest, harsh and unrelenting. Ghostly swirls of powder rise and vanish as the wind sculpts the snow into satiny ridges. Around the abandoned buildings and through broken-down fences, across the fields and past the shivering trees the wild wind whips and moans, caught in a rising fever. When the clouds burst and the fever runs highest, the world turns white and gray and no creature dares venture out to seek vanished trails. Time passes and the days grow longer. The sun, rising higher, is increasingly warm and inviting. Icicles drip and the crystal land sparkles. The snow carpet, once so fresh and woven deep, becomes haggard, thin, and frayed. Evergreens, glad for the sun, shed their winter cloaks and the stooping grasses are unburdened. Animals great and small range farther each day from their winter homes. A rustle of wings fills the air and high voices call overhead. The voices sing of the end of winter days and welcome the beginning of the days of spring. **

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