I woke up to the first significant snowfall of the year. It was a gentle snow, and clumps of it stuck to the trees. Snow-covered branches are beautiful, and ordinarily the maple tree just outside my window would have held my full attention. This morning, however, I find myself distracted by a large flock of starlings. 

I don’t usually pay much attention to starlings, but this particular congregation of the Eurasian invasives is hard to ignore. The only piece of lawn with even a little green still poking through the snow is on the leeward side of the spruce tree across the street. Over a hundred starlings feed in this small area. They peck in the grass for less than a minute, then suddenly take flight and shoot off in all directions. Nothing, as far as I can tell, disturbs or threatens them, but the instant one bird leaves the ground, the others immediately follow suit. Thirty seconds later they all return to the same patch of grass to feed, only to fly away soon afterwards. This pattern has been repeating itself for most of the morning. 

Last night’s snow was the first serious indication of winter. I know, because Manyu is using her morning to scour the internet for cheap airline tickets between here and Taiwan. The snow has triggered her innate migratory instinct, and she needs to be doing something related to travel. 

If Manyu has a spirit animal, it is probably a warbler, maybe a wren, so her need to be on the move makes sense to me. I, on the other hand, am a bear. My response to winter is to hunker down. Manyu wonders why I can’t hunker down just as well in a warm place as a cold one, and I don’t have a good answer for her. This winter I am staying in La Crosse because neither Manyu nor I want to leave our elderly dog in the care of someone else. It is a valid reason, but it’s also a rationalization for doing what I’d want to do even if we didn’t have a dog.

Maybe I stay in the northcountry because I need to witness for myself early signs of spring in the dead of winter. I usually am the first person in mid-January to point out that the days are getting longer. Right now, however, we are entering the two darkest months of the year. There are upsides to winter’s cold and snow, but I have yet to see anything positive about total darkness by 5pm.

Steven Simpson