Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

Sandy Griswold, editor. December 29, 1907. Omaha Sunday World-Herald 43(13): page number not legible. Typographic errors corrected.

The Coming of the Snow Winter's One Big Event

When the Note of the Chickadee Alone is Heard in Frost-covered Copse.

Pencil Sketches of the Woods and Waters When the Flocculent Crystals Fly.

Holiday festivities are now over, or will be in a few days, and then all that will be left for we sportsmen to do is to settle down for the long dreary wait for spring. While the winter has really just begun, the holidays once over, and it seems that the worst part has gone it matters not how bleak the winds may blow, how cold it gets, or how the snow and sleet may fly, after the holidays the one thought is of the advent of the sweet springtime. It is this thought that causes time to whiz by with unrecked speed, and although the wait is really a long one, it does not seem so even to the impatient hunter, whose mind is filled with visions of yellow and crimson. March mornings and evenings, when the wedged shape flocks of honking geese are defined against the steely blue of the background sky, and long dotted lines of pintails and mallards are furtively cleaving their way up, and down the broad valley of the roaring Platte. He sees the old shack among the willows out on the old river, the ruddy flames of the joyous campfire, the clatter of dishes and tins, as his canvas-clad comrades move to and fro, night and morning, busy with the meal-getting. Oh, yes, it is such visions as these that even overwhelm the clamor of raging north winds and whirling snow, of cold and sleet and discomfort, and open up a vista to the sportsmen's eyes that leads out into the warm, but crisp sunshine, whence the waters boil and froth, and through which the glossy wild fowl are hurrying to and from the fields to the river.

And time it is, each day, no matter how inclement without, the dreams of the hunter take on extra tints of pleasure, and the long wait is metamorphosed from one of impatience and fruitfulness, into quickly flying days that are full of the glory of richest anticipation.

Thus far the winter has been a grand one, with little in the way of meteorological visitations to disturb either mental or physical equilibrium. But the change is about due and soon the whole landscape will be muffled in the immaculate raiment of the season. And what hocus-pocus the first real big snow fall of winter works, so disguising everything in its folds of white as to make the most familiar strange. Rough hollows in the woods are smoothed to mere undulations, and on the open prairie they are made deceitful to both eye and foot, the level fields so piled with drifted heaps and ridges that the most inveterate rabbit hunter scarcely recognizes them.

The sod house, way out in the sandhills, is as regally roofed as the city palace; the rudest hedge is one of pearl, finer than a wall of marble, while the meanest wayside weed becomes the purest flower of elfinland.

The thin woods down along the silent Elkhorn, which the frost and winds of November stripped of their leafy thatch, are roofed again, this time with an arabesque of alabaster more delicate than the green canopy that June unfolded, and all the floor is set in noiseless pavement, traced with a shifting pattern of blue shadows. In the still aisles the echoes are smothered before they start. There is no response of airy voices to the faint call of the winter birds, the chickadee, in his velvet cap and the nuthatch in his suit of gray.

There is neither sound of ax of corn husking, and the report of hardy rabbit hunter's gun awakes no answering sound. Even such mellow note of the farmer's watch dog comes separate to the ear, with none of the jungle of reverberations heard before the snowfall.

Horses and cattle wallow through the drifts a crumbling furrow that obliterates identity of either trail, but there are yet tracks that tell us as well as written words who made them.

Here have fallen, light as the snow makes themselves, the broad pads of Molly Cottontail; there are the parallel pairs of another winter masker, the polecat's tracks and the fox squirrel's, linking from tree to tree. There the spasmodic leaps of a tiny wood mouse are lightly marked upon the feathery surface, until a spot is reached when there is the imprint of a light, swift, strongly feathered wing on either side—the hungry, vigilant winter hawk—and the sad little story of the mouse's wanderings comes to an end—a crimson splotch in the snow, the period which marks the finish.

In the blue shadows at the bottom of that winding furrow are the dainty foot-prints of a prairie chicken, and as you stop to closer examine, you wonder why he so strong of wing, should choose to wade laboriously the clogging snow, even for his briefest trip in search of frozen rosebud or buckbush berry, rather than make his easy way through the unresisting air, but the snow-written records of his wayward trampings do not tell you why, and you go on your way studying this new problem in the lives of the field and wood folk.

In the twilight of the Platte's scraggy vale, down there a short ways' back of the Yellowstone Gun club's snug shack, on the fluffy broken limb of an old cottonwood, sits a big horned owl, like a hermit in his crypt, in pious contemplation of his own holiness and the world's irreverence. But it is not sine the big brown feathered buffoon hates, it is only the broad glare of the daylight on the wide-spread blanket of snow, and the boor of a man who disturbs his solemn vigil, as he crunches on down to the pasture land for recreant horse or cow; or the form of the rabbit hunter flitting like a phantom from pearly brush heap to silvered log pile.

Out on the river, bar and channel are scarcely distinguishable now, but the white domes of the muskrats' winter homes along the marshy estuaries, thrusting themselves up into the cold air here and there, or the sprawling mass of reed or cane or flag, beaten flat and deeply covered with the snow, tell where you may and may not venture with safety.

The sheltered bays of the sandhill ducking lake, and its quiet coves, too, are frozen hard, and white with snow or frost, and where your decoys bobbed so blithely in the golden haze of October, is but a wind-swept sheet of thick ice.

Far away, even to the hoary bluffs along the river defiant and complaining Missouri, that shine with a glittering gleam against the blue rim of the sky, and to the furthest gray line of woodland that borders the distant horizon, stretches that same universal whiteness. Coldly shines the sun from the low curve of his course, and so dully comes the lightest waft of wind from wheresoever it listeth, it requires a big tax on the imagination to picture any land on all the earth where summer flowers dwell, and where the notes of birds and running water is heard.

How far beyond the ken of the world seems the possibility of such a change as a big snowfall will bring to us, and how enduring and how ruthless is the roll of the season. And then when it is all over, at the close of this brief reign of white, the sunset will paint a promise and a prophecy in a blaze of color in the western sky, and another Sunday we will try and feebly sketch the fruition of that promise—the fulfillment of the prophecy.