In Maine parlance, if you survived the winter you have “wintered well.” Here in Kansas, the winters are less severe, but I can say we not only survived, we also wintered well in the literal sense of the word.
Judging by the activity at the feeders, the birds also seem to have wintered well. It was a good year for goldfinches; they arrived in the fall and a flock of approximately 40 hung around all winter. The biggest surprise was seeing a lone black-billed magpie feeding among the usual crowd of woodpeckers, finches, chickadees and nuthatches.
Magpies were once common here, but this is the first one I’d seen in years. Dressed in black and white and iridescent green, it appeared suddenly one day, raided the feeder for a couple of months, then just as suddenly vanished. My sister-in-law, unaware of the magpie’s sometimes dark reputation, was quite impressed by its beauty. The bird camped on a tree near the house and greeted us with a loud call every time we stepped outside.
The winter was exceptionally dry and mild. A blizzard in early February brought 7 inches of drifting snow, a record for the season. It shut down schools for a few days, but we shoveled the sidewalk, cleared the driveway, and after the grader made a couple of sweeps up and down the road, we were back in business.
Washington, D.C., apparently, did not winter so well. One day it only took an inch of snow to bring the city to a standstill. Later they got hit by a record blizzard, and the snow managed to accomplish what Congress failed to do in debates over the debt ceiling — it shut down the whole government for days.
After that, the city spent weeks and millions of dollars to remove the snow. Out here in farm country, we mostly just let the snow lie on the ground, where it provides moisture for the wheat, makes money for farmers and grows the food that feeds the people in the city who think snow is only a wearisome nuisance.
The season moved in a timeless, orderly manner, and we moved with it. Winter wheat came up green, and the grass turned brown. Milo was harvested. The days grew steadily shorter, and the sun made a turn at the solstice. Great horned owls were overheard exchanging musical love notes in January. With February came migrating geese and the flowering of elm trees. By March, lawns were sprouting clusters of dandelion yellow and big swaths of henbit purple.
During the winter, we lost Albert, the good-natured cat a friend had given us as a kitten years ago. It was, as Loren Eiseley would say, a “small death.” Small in the scheme of things, but big enough to leave a noticeable vacancy in the chair where he slept. We buried him back of the house, beside our lab Rex.
The calico Miss Tigger, or Poo, is still with us. She is sound asleep on a rug and doing a good job of bringing “a note of peace” to the room, which E.B. White said was the whole purpose of a cat.
Outdoors in the great expanse of farmland, far from the rush of the madding crowd and the rumble of presidential campaign politics, the world is slowly and quietly slipping into a new season. Newborn calves are adjusting to the novelty of their pasture environment, acres of crescent wheat are filling the landscape with a cheerful shade of green, and the ever-hopeful farmer is getting his field ready for spring planting.
Living in the country is like having a cat in the room, only the room is bigger and more deeply moving. It brings a note of peace to life itself.
Richard Weber is a nature enthusiast
living in Ellis County.