WINTER STORM

snow

Trish calls with the forecast, and I decide to return home from the office earlier than usual. Clouds press down from an ashen sky, the first flakes beginning to fall as I pull into the long dirt drive that leads to our home. Earlier in the week the temperature had dropped to minus eight degrees, unusual for the northwest corner of New Jersey.

The previous evening a red fox had sprung from our neighbor’s property across the road, streaking onto our twelve-acres of hardwood and fields. The white tip of the fox’s red tail trailed behind. Foxes mate during the winter and I assumed this was a male searching for food to bring back to the vixen who’d be busy building a den. We hadn’t seen any gray squirrels since the temperatures had dropped, but an unlucky mouse or unwary cottontail would do just fine.

Trish had filled the Kubota with diesel. We had replaced the bucket loader with the plow as winter approached, and the tractor stood ready behind the barn door. She had also filled the bird feeders, and with the below-zero temperatures, set out corn on the earthen dam behind the pond for the deer.

The dogs rush to the door to greet me. Finnegan, the younger and larger black Lab rises on his haunches to place his big paws on my shoulders while Winslow Homer wags his tail, as he waits his turn to have his chin scratched. The Jotul woodstove is cranked up high, and after changing out of my office attire, I go back outside to collect wood from the lean-to. After I stack the wood in the metal cradle beside the stove, we sit down to an early dinner of beef stew accompanied by steamy hot rolls. As darkness falls, we turn down the lights and watch the silent fall of snow.

The storm ends around ten as Trish has predicted. After changing into flannel-lined jeans and layers of fleece, we walk outside accompanied by the two dogs, who race through the five inches of light snow like two kids with the day off from school. Trish clears off our vehicles while I turn on the lights of the Kubota and begin plowing the drive. As I pass by, the dogs leap upon the banks of snow created by the plow. By eleven thirty we are all back inside.

The next morning, the sunlight is blinding as it reflects off of the snowscape around our home. The branches of the dogwoods, maples, and black birch remain coated with a mixture of snow and ice that glistens under the early morning sun.

bird

As I dress for another day at the office, I watch a flock of finches dominate one of two feeders Trish had filled with sunflower seeds while chickadees, titmice, and the occasional nuthatch flit back and forth from the other.

A pair of cardinals perches in the branches of a small spruce tree we’d planted a few feet from the feeders while juncos, sparrows and mourning doves work the snow-covered ground underneath.

As I knot my tie, a pileated woodpecker flies out of the woodlot and over the pond. The large black bird with the red-crested head lands on one of the trees between the pond and our house where Trish has crammed suet into metal cages. Standing at our bedroom window, I watch the pileated frighten a rose-breasted woodpecker and a smaller downy, as it works down the trunk of the tree until coming to one of the suet cakes.

deer

Five deer slowly walk out of the woodlot. They make their way along the far edge of the pond in single file. The pond that has been hidden under ice since the precipitous drop in temperature is now blanketed with snow.

I watch the deer spread out along the dam. Bedded down during the storm, they now feed on the corn Trish had put out for them. The family consists of a mature doe we call the Moocher because of her habit of coming to our outstretched arm for a handout, her mature daughters from two years ago, and this year’s fawn, now a yearling. The fifth deer could be the Moocher’s sister or brother or another part of her extended family. The males lose their antlers and so from the bedroom window it’s hard to tell. Over the last many years we have watched this matriarch guide her family through drought, flood, sun and storm. Although she learned to come to our bucket of corn, the other members of her family maintain their fear, which we do not discourage.

Walking down the stairs, I find Trish in the kitchen. The dogs are fed and she is pouring herself a mug of coffee. I’d prefer to spend the day with Winslow Homer and Finnegan lollygagging around the property, perhaps refilling the feeders, maybe splitting wood, most surely taking a walk through the woodlot and into the one hundred acres of undeveloped woodland beyond. Instead, I kiss Trish goodbye and trudge out to my car.

 

One Response to “WINTER STORM”

  1. rivertoprambles Says:

    Yes, another winter storm, and your photographs and narrative bring a homestead warmth that I, too, enjoy as the snow & sleet come down… Your place reminds me of my own! We have 10 acres in wooded hill country, and the red foxes out back are busy setting up for another family season….

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