When the colors of Nature take a much-needed vacation, leaves decorate our lives differently. They go underfoot to hide familiar landmarks, jump into the water to go on float trips, and assemble themselves obligingly to insulate perennial beds from the frost.

   When decorating trees and shrubs, they act as cushions absorbing sound. In falling away they allow audible reverberations of the valley to become intensified. The sounds are magnified as they travel through the crisp, cold air of winner. The loudspeaker snapping of a branch breaking under the weight of snow or a tree falling in the forest seems as close as the crackling log in the fire.

   Geese from the nearby nature preserve, out for a stretch, converse overhead in voices so precise that I feel included in the gossip. It was obvious early on that the house occupies space in a bird flyway, which was one of the determining factors for feeder locations. The tall, spindly maple planted in the middle of the birds' path serves as lookout station during lineups at the feeders. The dinner music engendered by this now less colorful, not so vociferous band begins and ends winter days with cheer.

   Ice castles crunch underfoot. We've all seen the heaving of frozen water-soaked soil. Children want to know of the unseen: Who is pushing these little castles upward from their earlier incarnation as muddy rain-soaked earth? Some castles wear towers of shaggy green moss, others have acorn caps posing as frosty turrets, the whole surrounded by crisp frost-whitened leaves.

   Plant life growing through frozen edges of streams takes on a new demeanor. Ice flowers intermingle with rocks made colorful by contrastingly dead grasses. Together they decorate an otherwise monochromatic streambed. Winter's delicate frosty formations of crystalline lace cover seedpods that glisten in early morning's sun.

   These fragile paintings, which melt as temperatures rise, are completely obliterated during a deep snowfall. Snow encourages quietude, fills in crevices, facilitates shapeliness. Its blanketing rounds the blunt edges of things, softening. Unfamiliar undulations beckon to us: "Come explore the changed landscape," the say. These shapes, like the round hay bales of summer, bring sensuousness to the land.

   Continuing snow provides quietude for the earth and the realization that one of the most deafening sounds of winter is silent snowfall. In what T.S. Eliot calls "lucid stillness," we hear the resonance of the universe.

In these moments, the falling ax of a neighbor who is splitting logs for his wood stove moves out of itself into the rhythm of belonging. Its echoes vibrate to form new patterns in the winter valley.

My photo of a late season ice storm.


Snow-covered settee with hydrangeas