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Fragments of winter

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This year the rains were very gentiel in northern California. We saw a few days of steady downpour, but none of the long weeks of battering like last year, which left a large pond at the low point of our countryand cre" ated a wonderfully crowded and boisterous frog and toad convention.

Below the snow line, as usual, the mountains, hills and valleys turned a deep , water fed green that has the power over me -- with one glance -- to mitigate all human problems. Out the living room window, framed by a poplar tree, a fence and a weathered well house, there is a fine, craggy mountain which sits there every day of the year like the sleeping back of a paleolithic brute.

The valley sweeps up to the creature and runs over its tummy like mottled fur. To the right, another mountain, rounded and strangely bare except for a few trees, is covered with a scruffy green blanket full of holes. Once, on the coldest night, the peak was dusted with white, which disappeared the next day by noon.

We vowed to heat ourselves only by the warmth of the fireplace and made it through the winter on two cords of wood. We stopped our electric bill by more than half. The wood was no small purchase, but we figured we came out ahead. Certainly we ranked high on coziness and that indefinable warmth of the eye which comes with the crackle of flame and oak night after night.

Ghost stories were popular. One night my daughter and I turned out the lights and sat together on the couch. I filled the room with a perilous tale of a lost and hungry boy stumbling across a dark house on a steep hill on a rainy night. Danger lurked at every step he took and every creak he heard.Near the breath-stopping climax of my story, something went THUMP very loudly near ourm front door. A split second of silence, then a rush to turn on the lights.

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