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col First snowfall: The magic's back

It's not dawn yet, and that suits me fine. It's dark, colder than a banker's heart and there's snow on the ground. I'm counting on a treat when the sun comes up and the big mystery of the morning is which goodie I'll get. I've been pretty well-behaved lately -- by my standards, anyway -- so I'm hoping for some exceptional gift. What will it be?

Hmmm. Is it going to be a male cardinal at the feeder at daylight? That would be an eye feast for sure. I love to see that first fellow, and better yet four or five of his mates tagging along as they feed on the snowy ground. The gray days of November get busted all to pieces when the first measurable snow comes. The beauty of those red-feathered fellows against the contrast of the snowy ground just fills me up. I wait every year for that first view. It makes me sigh when I see it.

Seeing that first cardinal might be one of winter's tender mercies to make the hard season more tolerable. At least it is in my book. The little surprise at the bottom of the package is the subtle beauty of the female cardinal that's feeding near by. I end up feasting on the cardinal-red of the boy birds until the female shows herself. Then which one should I watch? She makes it hard to know which gift to pick.

Have those deer been lying in that spot all fall? I never saw them there before, but I'll bet they've been loafing in that area right regular. I can see them now, with the snow highlighting their presence. Let's see, one, two, three -- oh, wait --look at that! There's two more behind that log. I'd never have seen her if she hadn't twitched her ear. Man, do they stand out in the snow.

I love the snow.

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And then there was Monday, driving on Highway 14 into Rochester. These people are nuts! C'mon, you've seen snow before, so act like it when you drive! It's so stupid, what you're doing, bookin' down the highway at top speed like it's some dry June morning. What the devil's the hurry? Slow down, morons!

I need to remember to take the back roads to town. I'll go 30 mph on a back road any day. It beats getting wrecked and hurt because some yuppie thinks his 4-wheel-drive makes him invincible.

Write this on your fridge: WHEN IT SNOWS, IT GETS SLIPPERY. I HAVE TO BUDGET MY TIME BETTER SO I DON'T HAVE TO RUSH TO TOWN. I DO NOT WANT TO CRASH AND DIE.

When the first snow falls on busy highways, I grit my teeth.

Rabbits everywhere! No wait, there's not a hundred of them making these tracks. Just a few, I guess. Do I got time to follow one of these sets?

Hah! So that's where that little imp hangs out. And there -- I think your tracks look like a devil's head, little squirrel. Your conduct around my bird feeder fits the image. Oh yeah, and I've just got to check out that small hole in that dead box elder out back. I wonder if a chickadee is using it this year to beat back the cold.

And today is going to be a great day. I'll get Brian set up down at the land to hunt. He came from Alaska to spend time with me and to hunt deer. He'll be down there, alone. Lucky bugger. Just him, the woods, snow, rabbits, squirrels and deer. I hope a big boy steps out for him.

That would make what I hope is a super hunt ... well, perfect.

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As perfect as the first snow of the season.

Ryan is a naturalist at Olmsted County's Oxbow Park north of Byron and writes a monthly column for the Post-Bulletin. To comment or pass along story ideas, call him at (507) 775-2451.

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