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Tracking winter for what it reveals and conceals

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I am caught up in the annual rite of observing the world remade by snow. I admire how the grass shimmers like an animal's pelt in the afternoons of late summer, and the bursts of sulfur yellow, orange, and maroon that break out among the gambrel oak and aspens for a few weeks in the fall are a pretty diversion.

But my eyes grow accustomed to the patterns of the trees and craggy rocks against their grassy backdrops. By late fall, the hills of our local horizon are toasted to a tawny hue, and the landscape settles into a familiar routine for my eyes.

Then the first covering snowfall makes the world look new. The land's familiar contours are still there, but they are rounded, the angles softened. As much as I like discovering the small intricacies in a spray of grass or a rosette of lichen, I am delighted to wake up and find my surrounding abruptly simplified. The world is edited down to plump geometrical forms. Cars, buildings, fences, walls - the rigid structures and hard emblems of modernity - are hidden.

I feel as if I've been given the gift of clean: gardening projects that didn't get finished or the messy heap of things that don't fit in the garage are transformed into curvy humps. Dusty ground and tired weathered grass get tucked under a smooth coverlet of white.

The enfolding quiet is a summons to reflection and solitude, and as often as I've seen it happen, the newness, calm, and flowing concealment still charm me. Sitting at the window with a cup of tea is a deep pleasure, a moment when I feel the most basic needs - for warmth and sustenance - and find them met.

But I'm also delighted in what snowfall reveals, so I put on a winter coat and boots, rummage for gloves, and go outside to wander and wonder. I know many animals are there all year long, but the signs they leave are hard to read in tall grass or hard-packed dirt. On the smooth plane of snow, it's easy to see who's been out.

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