A Winter Friend


THE way to the woods is blurred with a mist of driven snow that veils the portal of the forest with its upblown curtain, and blots out all paths, and gives to the familiar landmarks a ghostly unreality. The quietude of the woods is disturbed by turbulent voices, the angry roar and shriek of the wind, the groaning and clashing of writhing, tormented trees. Over all the sunned but unwarmed sky bends its blue arch, as cold as the snowy fields and woods beneath it.

In such wild weather you are not tempted far abroad in quest of old acquaintances, yet from the inhospitable woods some of them come to you. Among them all, none is more welcome than that feathered atom of life, the chickadee. With the same blithe note that welcomed you to his woodland haunts in spring, in summer, and in autumn, when he attended you with such charming familiarity, amusing you with pretty acrobatic feats, as he flitted, now before, now beside, now above you, he hails you now, and asks that hospitality be extended to him.

Set forth a feast of suet on the windowsill, and he will need no bidding to come and partake of it. How daintily he helps himself to the tiniest morsels, never cramming his bill with gross mouthfuls as do his comrades at the board, the nuthatch and the downy woodpecker ! They, like unhidden guests, doubtful of welcome or of sufferance, even, make the most of time that may prove all too brief, and gorge themselves as greedily as hungry tramps ; while he, unscared by your face at the window, tarries at his repast, peeking his crumbs with leisurely satisfaction. You half expect to see him swept from your sight like a thistledown by the gusty blast, but he holds bravely to his perch, unruffled in spirit if not in feathers, and defies his fierce assailant with his oft-repeated challenge.

As often as you spread the simple feast for him he will come and sit at your board, a confiding guest, well assured of welcome, and will repay you with an example of cheerful life in the midst of dreariness and desolation. In the still, bright days, his cheery voice rings through the frosty air, and when the thick veil of the snow falls in a wavering slant from the low sky its muffled cadence still heartens you.

What an intense spark of vitality must it be that warms such a mite in such an immensity of cold ; that floats his little life in this deluge of frigid air, and keeps him in song while we are dumb with shivering ! If our huge hulks were endowed with proportionate vitality, how easily we might solve the mysteries of the frozen north !

On some February day, when the first promise of spring is drifted to you in the soft south wind, the tenderness of spring is voiced in his love-note, brief but full of melody, and sweet as the evening song of the wood pewee. When the spring songsters come, he takes leave of you. He has seen you safely through the winter, and departs to the woods on affairs of his own. He is no longer a vagrant, but at home in his own greenwood, yet as unfretted by the cares of housekeeping as he was by the heavy weariness of winter.