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January 15 was a cold, cold day over much of the United States, including southeast Missouri, where I live. Rising early I started my first cup of coffee about 6 a.m. I cooked my breakfast while the warm, brown drink began to do its job of pushing the residual drowsiness from my body.
After eating I pulled on my coveralls and boots, took up my backpack and crossbow, and stepped out into the wintry wonderland.
The crispness of well below freezing air shocked the last bit of sleepiness from me as I was instantly attacked by six very excited dogs. They don’t speak English but what they said to me was as clear as any words another human might have said. “It’s a wonderful day to be alive and we’re so happy to share it with you!”
It’s funny how we humans, who have it so good, complain when something isn’t perfect. I had tuned in to the news while I ate breakfast and heard the weather person warning everyone what they needed to wear that day to prevent severe injury or death from the frigid temperatures.
Am I the only one who kind of feels insulted that someone acts like I’m not smart enough to dress myself without consulting them first? I’ll bet I’m not.
Most people these days only have to plan their clothing for the day with two things in mind: what is the weather like for the walk from my car to the office and what will I be comfortable in at work? Really! For most of us “dressing for the weather” means only about two minutes actually out in it. Even me. Well, maybe a few more minutes some days because I don’t park in a garage or carport. On days like Monday I have to start the car to warm it up while I clean the snow and ice off for safety. But the drive to work is still in reasonable comfort, and once I get there, my costume is pretty much the same year round.
However, I am blessed. I live on a farm. I live in the country.
Outside, I checked on the dogs’ water. Frozen. The cat’s water was a five inch thick block of ice. We water both species in rubberized containers that make the problem a minor one. I turned them over and stomped on them to break up the ice, then flipped them back upright and refilled them.
The chickens huddled in the sheltered area on top of, or in, their coop. They only left their spots to get some food when I brushed the snow off to reveal it and tossed them my leftover popcorn kernels from the night before. Their waterer sits on a waterproof electric heater so the arctic temperatures had only managed to create a skim of ice for me to remove with my fingers. Those digits stiffened immediately but I dried them and they warmed back up pretty quickly.
With my responsibilities to my furred and feathered friends achieved, it was time for some fun.
The ground was almost completely covered but big flakes continued to drift down as we walked across the wheat field on our hillside. My hairy friends danced and played across the ground but, burdened as I was by backpack and crossbow, I walked a bit more deliberately than they…not that I dance a lot even on my best day.
We stepped into the woods and were greeted by the soft, “sh-h-h-h,” of snow sifting down through dry leaves still clinging to the oaks. The trail had a layer of white on top of the ice from a few days before. Tracks, big ones, followed the path through the woods ahead of me – a big buck, from the size of them. I wondered if it was my buck, the one I waited all season for.
To my left, the surface of the pond was solid ice, as smooth as glass, but with a dusting of snow. Another day or two of temps this low and it would be thick enough to walk on, or skate on. Annie and I used to take the boys to a pond on the farm where we lived at that time. She’d strap on her old ice skates and the boys and I would make do with our shoes. Annie looked like a ballerina as she floated gracefully around the pond. The boys and I would slide and fall, get up and slide some more. We’d all laugh and tease each other. One or another of the boys would fall hard and cry, but not for long.
The dogs and I entered the open field and walked around it, checking out the signs of wildlife that had braved the cold, like us. There were the expected deer, a couple coyotes, and a rabbit or two. Lots of birds had hopped around, searching for something to eat. It was clear that they had landed on weeds to eat from the seed heads, shaking seeds into the snow in the process. Then they’d hop to the ground to clean up the seeds before they sank slowly out of sight.
When we had first stepped onto the field, I had seen a squirrel leaping into one of the oaks. He had scurried up the tree and into his warm nest. I soon saw the tracks where had climbed down from his cozy bed to try to find some acorns he hid last fall. We had interrupted his meal but I knew he’d be back out once he was sure we were out of sight.
I changed out the memory card in the game cam and we headed down hill. At the bottom we found our way through the trees that guard the drainage ditch. I could see where more animals had been through on the same path. I switched out the card in that game cam. Later I’d see where an amazing number of wildlife had crossed in front of it. Raccoons, rabbits, deer, coyotes. Considering there is absolutely nothing in the field to eat, I was surprised at how many critters spent time in it.
The dogs and I started north on the field road, slick with its underlying layer of ice. I stepped carefully as I paced the dogs, who were hunting the brush growing in the ditch. A quick flutter told me when a dove flew up to keep from being a meal for a hungry dog. The bird landed soon after taking off, barely ten feet from the ground. She sat there, watching me alertly but without fear. Surprising, considering that doves are prey for pretty much any hungry meat eater, from minks and weasels all the way up to coyotes and people.
I walked carefully along the road, my mind turning once more to the times Annie and the boys and I had gone skating on the pond. We would play and skate and joke and laugh, but the lure of some hot cocoa and a fire in the wood stove would pull us off the ice soon enough. We’d go back to the house where insulated coveralls, gloves, and boots would be thrown off as we all settled in with a warm cup. Before long most of the boys would doze off for a warm nap. Sometimes Annie and I would drift off too.
Saddened that those days are gone, I picked my way cautiously up the slick hill road. The boys have moved out and their kids are too far away for quick access to lonely grandparents. Annie had gone to visit her parents and been snowed in, so I was alone.
The dogs quickly reminded me that they wouldn’t leave me. They were even happier than me to go out into the snow, and at least as happy as I was when I got home. I stepped into the warmth and “accidentally” let some of them in.
Don’t tell Annie.
My hands wrapped around a cup of coffee as I found my chair. Opie hopped up onto my lap and Cotton and Buttercup chose rugs to lie on.
The pups were soon sleeping comfortably in the warmth. I may have dozed off myself for a minute or two…maybe more.
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I took a few short videos while the dogs and I took our walk through the snow.