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Winter offers joys, challenges

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By Vince Luecke

Winter has left me sleepy. Maybe the shortage of sunlight is to blame for my missing energy. Or perhaps it's simply the cold that makes me want to stay under the covers some mornings.

Even the alluring aroma of coffee from the machine I program before bed fails to rouse my sleepy spirits. I'm not like this the rest of the year. I could fault old age. But I blame winter.

I have been daydreaming of spring, flowers, T-shirts and green grass. But I know winter has to run its course first. Until then, I'll cope with the long nights and cold.

I have no desire to ditch winter entirely and despite the lack of energy cold weather inflicts, I've come to appreciate these quiet, slower-paced months. Like people, the land needs time to rest and recharge before it can begin to support new life in the spring. I've mulched the roses I planted last spring along the sidewalk steps but the lavender plants nearby are on their own.

Under the frost and frozen inch or two of soil, I know the lily and tulip bulbs are storing up energy, counting down the weeks until they begin pushing new shoots toward the surface. The daffodils I transplanted and new crocus I planted last fall will spring to life even sooner.

I feel empathy for the animals that have to cope with the cold and the pair of bluebirds I saw flying around my lilac bush last week reminded me that I haven't put out any bird seed yet. It's coming soon.

I hope the occasional rabbit and squirrel I see while driving or walking some evenings are coping well. I saw nuts on the ground in the woods last fall and there should be pieces of corn to glean from farmers' fields. Like most busy people, I feel a little envy at creatures that spend winter nibbling storehouses of nuts or those that hibernate to some degree through winter. But such thoughts, I know, are overly nostalgic. Many animals have a difficult time surviving until spring and nature's way of dealing with the sick or weak seems as harsh as winter's cold.

The four white geese on the lake near home don't seem to mind the cold and venture into the water like it's summer. As of Friday morning, they were maintaining a small circle of open water while a thin coat of ice covered the rest of the lake. Just watching the birds leaves me feeling cold but the thick coat of down apparently serves them well.

The geese spend their time on land nibbling blades of grass and come running when my brothers grind feed, knowing there will be a little spilled corn to eat. I still sneak a few handfuls of grain every week and leave it close to the shore. I'm sure they appreciate the extra boost of energy.

I watched a fat hawk sunning itself Thursday near home but it flew off when I stepped out of the car with my camera. I saw a young hawk in the same area a few days earlier and I hope it is able to survive what may be its first winter.

Though the lure of tropical jaunts is tempting, I'll never be one to live someplace without a winter. A reader called from Florida last week and talked about the freezing weather they've had there, a cold snap that has some citrus growers worried. A friend from Rosario, a city in Argentina, e-mailed me an update on his job, wife and kids. He also complained of the heat. While we're in the midst of winter, it's summer in the southern hemisphere. I'd like to visit him but mountains of work and a cheap dollar will probably keep me at home.

Until spring arrives, I'm trying to exercise more and to read books I've purchased but never got around to opening. I'm trying to spend less time in front of the television and as the days gradually lengthen, I'm sure to perk up.

I'm no lover of snowstorms, but am looking forward to at least one measurable snowfall. There's nothing quite like venturing out for a walk on new snow and like a kid sharing a bit of glee at nature's wonder. I'll be plenty ready for spring when it arrives. Until then, I'll enjoy winter.