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In Birdland, we woke to an icy rain that slicked even the gravel lane so that I slipped and slid when I went out early to feed the dogs.

By midmorning, big, chunky flakes began to replace the rain, floating and sometimes catching in swirling eddies of breeze.

The dogs took turns exploring the yard as it began to fill with snow.

By noon, I opened the top of the Mr. Ed door in the coop, but the chickens and turkeys never ventured out.

I guess they thought their coop was pretty warm compared to the outside.

Friends, I will soon embark on a long journey.

In these COVID-19 times, travel fills me with trepidation, especially after I woke this morning to find my travel plans had changed dramatically.

I had constructed a careful strategy to keep myself and my fellow travelers safe, and the change has pulled the legs out of an important aspect of the plan.

I confess I was in tears. Now I had to reconstruct new tactics with very little time allowed for changes.

The trip is a big one with lots of contingencies, and I will be on my own.

Michael teased me that I couldn’t get any further from home unless I went to the moon, and I had to admit he is not wrong.

It was already a trip full of stressors, and I was feeling pretty good about my independence, but today’s change in plans hit me pretty hard.

The added hurdle was just one slice too much. I was thinking it might be better to cancel the trip.

I decided to take a mental-health nap in the middle of the day. When I awoke, I realized I needed a reset.

I had been looking at it wrong, as if my plans were a delicate construction of ramshackle parts, or a Rube Goldberg machine — one misstep and the whole thing falls apart.

Instead, it’s just a series of smaller voyages with some tasks to complete, like a scavenger hunt, or a quest in a fairy tale.

If I think of it as challenge instead of a hardship, it can almost be fun.

At the end of the first leg of my journey, I must pass a test before I can continue. And the second leg holds a challenge of isolation, and so on, until I can arrive at the kingdom.

I told our oldest about every hurdle I have to jump to complete my journey, and he asked me a riddle, “How do you eat an elephant?” I said, “Bit by bit?” “Yes,” he texted back, “one bite at a time.”

Just before dusk, Michael and I decided on a snowy walk. We went to rouse the dogs from their nap to choose one to come with us, only to find both beds empty.

I half remembered letting Ursula out in the hustle and bustle of afternoon phone calls and distractions.

I must have done it without checking whether Cullen was in. Both dogs were gone!

We crossed the snowy field and entered the woods. By now, the snow was sticky and the wind was low.

Branches were softened and thickened with a snow covering, and the woods were suddenly much denser.

Just inside the forest, we found the tracks of two bad dogs, and we followed them down past the bent tree and around the deer stand and over to the brook.

As always, we stood for a moment at the dry stream bed, watching it fill with snow.

We called and clapped for the dogs, but we never saw them until bedtime, when we heard a tired bark from the porch door.

Ursula came in first and flopped down on her bed, Cullen about five minutes behind. We figured they’d been gone about six or seven hours.

They always sleep most of the next day after one of their adventures, and indeed, here is Cullen at my feet, giving some sudden, quiet, wuffing sounds. Is he barking in his dreams?

Travel in Beauty; Voyage in Peace; Blessed Be

Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. She would like to wish her favorite brother, Robby, a very happy birthday. If you’re missing your weekly dose of Birdland letters in The News-Gazette, you can still read them every week in the Piatt County Journal Republican. Consider subscribing to support your small-town newspaper. You can see pictures of our winter walk on Instagram @BirdlandLetters. Mary can be reached at letterfrombirdland@gmail.com or via snail mail, care of the Journal Republican, 118 E. Washington St., Monticello, IL 61856. She wants to thank her friends for writing and will answer you all soon.

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