The land is quiet. The world is asleep. All around is still. No sound is heard save the lightly landing snow.
These are the short days of winter. Today is the darkest hour. The solstice is upon us; astrological winter has begun.
The world already knows the changes that have come. Plants lie dormant in the fields. Skeletons of last year’s growth remain as wind-battered sentinels above the white covering, an indicator of what species grew here in the warmer months. The animals, too, are hidden away; no tracks can be seen in the freshly fallen powder. Even the humans do not frequent these parts. The lone explorer presses along on skis, leaving behind an incriminating trail.
The winter sun vies for even a brief appearance through the clouds from its home low on the horizon. At these latitudes, it does not promise to linger long, if it even comes at all. Nevertheless, the fresh blanket of white reflects what little sunshine penetrates through the overcast skies. Beneath a firmament of gray, the land shines brilliantly bright. Such brilliance comes at the cost of the absorption of solar energy; the positive feedback cycle of winter cold is nearing its zenith, not to be broken until the sun shines more directly overhead once again.
Today the air is frigid. The illimitable cold turns the flakes falling from the sky light and airy. Super-frozen, they land delicately on the ground in a cottony pile. The lightest motion stirs up the powder like a coating of fine dust. Pick some up in your hand; you can blow the crystals of frozen water cleanly away. Taste some of the snowflakes; they melt instantly in your mouth.
Everywhere, the snow piles up. On tree branches, the fresh flakes land on top of one another in an acrobatic perch. The mere gravitational weight of the snowflakes causes them to deform, slowly melding the flakes together into a structural form. The smooth coating of white on everything makes the world look soft and inviting—comically rotund, perhaps—and radiantly white. How long has it been since movement disturbed these branches?
Though it is well below freezing, the small stream in the field remains unfrozen. The energy inherent in the motion of the water keeps the stream from solidifying, though snow flows in the water and ice nips at the edges. This creeping ice foreshadows the inevitable reach of the cold. It too, wants to cover over the stream, to cease even the motion of the water. For now, the water still flows. Water, in every state, is still flowing.
Nearby a chickadee flits around in the bushes. Now clothed in tones of dull gray, this year-round inhabitant matches the pale hue of the surrounding woods. The chickadee braces for the cold dark days of winter. It must vigilantly search for the stashes of seeds it has cached in the summer. Inactivity can quickly lead to a songbird’s demise.
The chickadee flies away just as quickly as it came. The world is once again still. No moving dares disrupt the hushed world. It is a time of waiting. Winter is here.