Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

December 5, 1920. Omaha Sunday World-Herald 56(9=10): 5-N.

First Snow Storm Brings Thrill to Nature Lovers

Charm Still Lingers in the Leafless Woods With Their Alluring Mystery of Wild Life.

By Sandy Griswold.

Although this is winter we have not yet had even our first old fashioned snow storm, that is, up to the hour this is being penciled. However, we are apt to have it any time. It has been threatening, and I am waiting for it.

Generally these snow storms come in the night. I do not pretend to know why, but they do. And what a boon it is, to the lovers of Nature, when it does come, and what lessons it teaches in the morning. I shall not be surprised any morning now to awaken and discover that it is here. What a magic scene it presents, when, stimulated by the unusual light that fills our chamber, we jump out of bed and hurry to the window to look out upon a new world, a wintry world of snow!

Everything is buried beneath a blinding arabesque, and as we look across into Turner park, every vestige of russet earth, leafy mould or struggling green has vanished. The trees are laden with their white fruitage and the little paths winding among them simply smoothed out of existence. The summer house in the ravine seems to have shrunk within the immaculate masses, which have piled themselves up to the very sills. Everything, park, streets, buildings, is one billowy expanse of dazzling white. All is softened and beautiful - a rare picture.

Waiting for It.

Let us take just such a wintry, snowy white, just any ordinary metaphorical wintry and snowy night, and its attendant morning. We have been waiting for it, as we said before, and prepared for it and watched for it from our little citadel overlooking this cozy little park.

We were warned of its coming as we strolled over and into these charming woodland depths many evenings before, as the purple mantle of twilight crept down through the ash and the elms shrouding little hillock and little vale with its hazy veil.

How at home we feel out there in the wintry dusk - how at home with all the world. All sound, in there, is low and plaintive, the frosty air breathes an odor of decaying leaves, and far above something like a snow squall is drifting by as if the walls of chameleon autumn were about to crumble before the advance of what we were expecting and looking for, the white hosts from the northland.

On Snowbound Threshold.

It was there, on such evenings, we imbibed the spirit of the hour. We neither regret the passing of summer's beauties, tree, grass, and flower, nor falter before the snowbound threshold that confronts us.

The present fills all desire with the Nature lover. As the last pink glimmering of the sunken sun frightens the fading landscape, its radiance illumes those real and imaginative creatures that mill around us in unending continuation. In these early December days the elements display a temperament which overthrows all meteorological calculations like those that mark the oncoming of fretful March and lachrymose April. One day the subtle influence of Indian summer is still impressionable as if defying the wintry gods to begin their shrieking, and then the next brings you only gray, scowling skies and keen, cutting blasts. Once more the southward breath dispel, the northland myrmidons, and you never can tell what new mood the weather may assume during the passing hours of the night.

A wintry day in the snow! Who does not love it? If one has the health and vigor, and the ambition too, to learn what is life in the silent places on such a day, the call is irresistible.

Beyond the Town.

Properly clad, forth you go into the crisp of the morning, and by brisk ambulatory exercise you are soon beyond the pale of the town, and gazing hungrily over countryside spangled in white.

The tall elms, graceful maples and scraggy oaks, the tawny under-growth, the delicate vines of grape and ivy and bittersweet, with its orange arils still clinging desperately to their slender stems, give a subdued but rich color to their surroundings.

The woods are lovely, but not wild. Winter is in a riant mood. You enter the still wood, where there is little life save for plaintive chickadee or venturesome squirrel, but there is plenty of evidence that the night time had been vibrant with vitality.

Here is a little glade, where the snow fell as light as a gossamer, its surface if fluffily ruffled. It has been crossed, recrossed and criss-crossed until a lacy pattern had been left - a pattern made by tiny hunting or frolicking feet - the feet of the wood mice.

Follow any of these little trails and they will undoubtedly lead to a hollow log or rotting stump where the little chestnut colored elf is curled up in sleep within a snug chamber. And you will likely discover that you were not the first to follow this little trail, for those small, firmly plunked, clean cut holes in a line, are the tracks of the predatory weasel, whose home is off yonder in that cluttered bank or hollow cottonwood. The triplicated tracks you will frequently cross are those of Molly Cottontail, and those groups of four prints, some times feet apart, where the jump was made, are those of a squirrel.

Tracks in the Snow.

You will find the filigree of many birds too, where the weeds still thrust themselves above the snow, although few will be seen, where they have scratched away the feathering covering on the southward slope of some little knoll until the fresh green of the indomitable grasses persist in gleaming forth, and perhaps the little fragments of the cups and capsules of the seeds they found. But birds and squirrels are day neighbors, and they were even earlier abroad than either you or I. You may, too, often come across a methodical line of round orifices in the snow made by a skunk, and once in a while, the larger ones, the dog-like tracks of some bold and marauding coyote, even on the outskirts of the city.

All the little nocturnal folks leave a perfect record of their wanderings in the snow, and a little watchfulness and care will disclose much about these shy little woodsy denizens, that you do not know, and your imagination will do the rest - people the silent places so that you can almost see them at their meanderings.

The pleasure of following these little trails in the snow is deep and lasting and not to be lightly dismissed by the student of the wilds. It is one of Nature's countless charms. It brings one into an intimacy with the great outdoors that is hard to define, and which nothing else can. It is only the ignorant and the doltish who look with supercilious scorn upon such happy indulgence.

Mine of Secrets.

While hunting birds and flowers and other wonders in the summer woods and fields is an entrancing pastime, the same ramble on a wintry day, when you well earn the glimpse of every chickadee, towhee, nuthatch or shrike you get, and every abnormally animated frond or shrub or tendril, brings one into closer touch with the life of nature, and gives one a new and mystic interest, an almost human and brotherly touch to the barren woods and fields and frozen streams that a large number of folk look upon with both wonder and disgust.

Even in our tames and just make-believe woods, like my own Turner park, is a veritable mine of secrets, both in the summer and in the winter, and they shelter and protect their wild life just as they are sheltered and protected in the wilderness.

We have charming neighbors out there, just across from Turner Court, and the tiny screech owl that serenades me almost nightly from the big cottonwood limb paralleling my bed chamber window, is not the least of them - my little Bobo, bless him, always. There is no music in the wintry woods that can equal the thrill, the suggestiveness and the mystery of his little concatenated warble - a soft, quavering tremolo that issues from no other feathered throat.

Bobo, with is camaraderie, leaves his record behind him in the snow for the Nature lover's eyes, and to read these records aright is to delve deeper in the book of nature.

Let them think, those scoffers, that the man, woman or child who goes poking through the wintry woods is crank or fool, as they list, that matters little. Perhaps they may be all this, in their lean reckoning, but you never can make me believe it, or make me care if it is so. It is not of such people they are thinking, but of the little children of the silent places.