The Freeze

The snow was here again. It descended from the skies in heavy drifts, flakes swirling as they came to rest. All through the night the snow fell, dramatically silent, and when morning came everything was smothered in pristine white icing: irresistible.

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Outside there was a chill that tightened the lungs, so cold was the air that even breathing in felt like getting smothered in snow. Each branch was cloaked, giving the impression of an overly enthusiastic artist splashing every bough with thick white highlights. Undisturbed snow on the sides of the track glistened, catching the light and sparkling with wintery luminescence. On the cusp of March, it was more of a spring wonderland than a winter one, and yet it could have easily been Christmas morning.

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Up in the trees, a whisper of falling snow betrayed the presence of a blackbird, sending tremors up the branch that dislodged loose flakes. A male, black feathers stark against his festive background, spotted with rich red berries and the undersides of dark leaves. He chirruped softly, his song more melancholy than it should be.

A man passed me on his bicycle, his tyres crackling like static feedback that faded as he disappeared. The landscape quietened again, a deafening silence only found with snow, when the world stops and waits with baited breath for this unexpected phenomenon to pass. It is a time when even nature stands still. Water is stopped in its tracks, defiant of gravity’s pull.

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Sloping down the bank to the river was a series of deep tracks, dogs mingled with hopping birds. The ever-falling snow began to repair the damage, forming undulations of half-hidden footsteps with softened edges. A wren sped past, trilling its bold song that seemed too big for its tiny lungs. What must the birds think? Have they anticipated this, read some sign in the climate to help soften the blow? The already challenging task of finding food in winter just became more trying, a test of strength and endurance in such temperatures.

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After a while my feet began to grow numb and my stomach rumbled. As I trudged back up the track, curving away from the coursing, white-framed river, I thought how I would snuggle up in my warm house with something to eat. I glanced back over my shoulder and saw a song thrush foraging. It had a snail pinned in its beak, and was cracking the shell hard on a rock. Such work the birds put in, when all I needed to do was open a can of soup and I’d be warm.

Back at the house, I peered outside and saw the feeder swinging empty again. Thinking of the blackbird, wren and diligent thrush, I hurried into the garden and replenished the feeder with rich fatty seeds, sprinkling some on the ground for those too heavy or timid to feed from the plastic perches. The birds needed all the help they could get.

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