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In Birdland, the sky is heavy, and we wait. The leaves on the ground expect me to finish raking them up to put into the coop, but we are in a cycle of a little bit of snow every few days that melts and dampens the leaves. By the time the wind dries the ground, I’m hoping for the sun to warm the yard just a bit before I go out to my work. But by then, the heavy clouds have let loose another dusting, and we begin the cycle again.

The dogs wait for their dinner, served just a bit later each day since I like to feed them just at dusk. They begin to nudge me when they notice the shadows lengthening, pointing toward the piney woods.

The chickens and Rosabelle, the turkey hen, wait for the sun to wake up the worms and grubs to enhance their diet as they scratch through the grass. The bees wait for warm days and the first pollen in the maple trees. And I wait for warm winds to blow me where I’m trying to go. But winter is a time to practice patience, and a time to hunker down and prepare for spring.

I found some tree frogs in the basement. They were sitting very silently like little lumps on the bottom skirt of the birdcage. They had turned color, like chameleons, a chalky grey, trying to blend into the white metal. I find toads and frogs in the basement once in a while and usually just put them outside. This was the first time I have found them in the dead of winter. I pried them off and brought them upstairs and fashioned them a home in my succulent terrarium. In just a few hours, they had lost their paleness until they were the color of the soil beneath the green leaves. Later, when my friend, Nancy, came over, I sent them home with her, since her own tree frog escaped into her living room this summer, and thinking he was an interloper, she put him outside.

This morning, I found another frog in the same place, and now I’m wondering whether he is just trying to hibernate, and I should let him be. I fired off an email to my naturalist friend, Rob, asking for advice, and I await his wise reply.

All this waiting makes me feel like hibernating, too, and in the evening when I have done enough work to make me crave a sort of mindless activity, I turn to my new obsession: text correction of digitized historical Illinois newspapers. A few evenings ago, Michael asked me what I was working on, and I told him. My husband was confused that I was still on my laptop after I had declared that I couldn’t work on my class prep any longer. “Why are you doing that?” he asked. I said it was fun and interesting work that didn’t require a lot of brain activity. You just compare the automatically-generated text with the scan of the newspaper. “I could either do this,” I told him, “or play solitaire.” THIS seemed more worthwhile. I feel like a citizen archivist. Also, I’m combining my genealogical research with this volunteer chore that helps to preserve Illinois history through primary source documentation. For example, I looked up a family name and discovered a snippet that says my great-great-grandmother visited her daughter (and my 2-1 / 2-year-old grandmother) in Omaha in 1905 for two months. Another search revealed that my great-uncle had been robbed and knocked unconscious in 1946. He was admitted to the hospital, “where his condition was described as ‘good.’” I called my mother to ask her if she remembered this — he lived with her family until his death when I was 2 years old — and she did, though she was only seven.

Some of the newspaper images are pretty clear, but some are so fuzzy that the automatically-transcribed text is unreadable. Correcting it is very satisfying. You can check out the digital newspapers and sign up to correct text at the Illinois Digital Newspaper Collection:

Foresee Beauty; Anticipate Peace; Blessed Be.

Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. 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 and at Consider subscribing to support your small-town newspaper. You can follow Birdland on Instagram (@BirdlandLetters) and Twitter (@BirdlandLetters). Mary can be reached at or via snail mail care of this newspaper.