Letter from Birdland: A wish for a safe flight into winter

In Birdland, we are preparing for Chandra's homecoming.

My oldest lives in Seattle, and it's been a year since he's been home. Here he'll find that the grass is green even into the dark of the year.

In the fall we cut out some dead trees, and logs are stacked high in the woodpile, but we haven't had one fire to warm the hearth yet. It has to be about 30 degrees to light a fire, or the house gets uncomfortably warm.

We installed a more permanent light in the chicken coop. The clamp lights and Christmas tree lights we always used to keep the chickens warm get jiggled around in the night, which makes the bulbs burn out, so Michael thought we needed something more stable.

I've only turned it on one windy night, and in the morning it was bright and warm in the coop, but also bright and not too cold outside, so I turned it off again. It's not that I'm longing for the bitter winds and icy face of winter ... or maybe I am. These new weather patterns are a bit unsettling.

The trees have lost their leaves, revealing beautiful, stark patterns against the sky.

The other day I was riding to town. Someone else was driving, which allowed my eyes to wander from the road to the scenery. I looked over toward the woods that follow the river as it snakes through Lodge Park, and without the leaves I could see how very many sycamores grow there.

During the growing season we see such a fertile jumble of green, that we can't differentiate the species. Now, with the trees' nudity, we can see the various profiles and the shades of bark.

A winter sycamore is lovely to behold. The great trunk is splotched with white, giving way to a more and more bone white as it branches like antlers crowning the sky. These majestic trees scattered throughout the river bottom are showy amongst the various greys and browns and blacks of the oak (which clings to its brown leaves until spring) and hickory and walnut.

The starkness of winter can reveal hidden beauty and hidden strength when the trees drop their leaves and the cold winds blow them away. The shorn fields are bare and the various colors of the earth between the stubble can reveal something about soil type and mineral content.

But that nakedness also reveals vulnerability and the other side of winter has been withheld this year: The snow that softens the landscape and muffles sound hasn't come. We say snow blankets the ground, protecting the earth, covering the dormant plants.

We need the ice to crack open the harshness of winter and beckon spring. Some plants, like apples, need a winter to prepare the seeds or they won't grow.

Seeds with a hard shell will repel moisture and might need the freezing and thawing of a real winter to crack open the seed and let the water come in. We need that period of dormancy to hunker down and rest to get ready for the wild growth of spring.

I find that I miss the winter. I miss the cozy warmth of a kettle boiling on the woodstove, the gentle warmth of the fire as it radiates through the house, the sharp smell of wood smoke rising from my chimney when I go outside.

I even miss the winter chores of splitting wood, and carrying it into the house, of putting another log on the fire and adjusting the flue, damping down the coals, before I go to bed.

I miss the brittle crunch and squeak of the ice under my boot when I go out to feed the chickens.

I miss the tracks of birds and beasts in the snow. If my words can call up a winter before this letter goes to press, let it be so!

Snow in beauty; beckon peace; blessed be.

Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. The weather service says to expect a blizzard, and as she types this last, the snows and winds have started. She'll send this off and then go to the airport to meet her firstborn. Here's to a safe flight. You can read more and see pictures of Birdland at http://www.letterfrombirdland.blogspot.com. Hays can be reached at letterfrombirdland@gmail.com or via snail mail care of this newspaper.

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