An unseen hand painstakingly covers the bare trees with white snow. It doesn’t leave a square inch of land untouched, filling the brown earth with clean white. The snow forms a blanket, worn like a comfortable sweater by every tree and every foot of ground. Slowly the hand encases each pine needle with clear ice, adds a slick layer of black ice to every driveway. For the final touch, it sweeps the sky with pale gray, bleaching the blue to a boring charcoal.
A young boy excitedly watches this, staring out of his brightly lit house at the snow settling on the big oak tree. To an adult, the old wood and the frail, thin branches look abandoned and gross, as if they’ve been forgotten by Mother Nature. To a child, the squirrels running around its base, the cardinal nesting in the branches, and the chipmunk curled up underneath its cover are plainly visible. They see how majestic the tree is, standing tall and proud. This boy is no different, staring in awe as the flakes tumble from the sky and onto the branches. His father, dressed in bulky layers, joins him at the window. He sees none of the beauty only young eyes can catch. Instead, he angrily mutters about how awful the view is and makes a mental note to chop down that oak tree in the spring.
The boy’s dad goes out to shovel snow, but the little boy curls up on his chair and gazes at the scene. As the air grows colder and the drifts of snow pile up, a young chipmunk is amazed at the white fluff falling down. He can’t catch it, and it doesn’t taste good, and it doesn’t smell at all. All it does is lie there on the ground, like a trap for him to sink into. Instead of daring to move and get stuck, he shelters himself under the oak and waits for the stuff to go away. Suddenly, a snowflake falls through the canopy of branches and settles on his furry nose. Shocked, he tries as hard as he can to get a glimpse of this invader. It tickles his forehead, is cool on his fur, and really smells pure and sweet. Its beauty makes him think about things that weren’t snow at all, like courage and love. Happy with his new friend, he runs in a circle. Only after he misses catching a snowflake does he realize that his guest has melted, leaving only wet fur behind.
* * *
In a forest like this one, food is scarce. She knows it. Why else would she work nonstop in the summer months storing food? Why else would she guard her tree ferociously to make sure nothing is stolen? In a way, it’s ironic that the one time she leaves her oak tree, half her supply is stolen. So now, being a lousy squirrel at the bottom of the food chain, she’s only got one chance to get her food back. After tracking down the skinniest male squirrel that has her precious red berries, she begins to chase him. Chattering furiously, the two animals streak through the snowy forest and around tall pine trees.
As the snow falls faster and the day grows colder, she can’t help wondering if she should just give up. After all, he probably ate half the food anyway. On the other hand, if she runs fast enough, she can get to his stash. Pivoting nimbly, she darts through the woods. Sure enough, in a few minutes, a squirrel is eating juicy berries with what seems like a smug expression.
The old man obeys no rules of the forest. Daily, he plunders the stock of the other animals there. He is lazy, but smart enough to know that he can be. Why should he work, when there is bountiful food to be had just three feet away? Today, the old cardinal gazes out at what he likes to call his territory. Rightfully, at least in his mind, he’s earned that forest. Ever since he was a young bird, he’s made his home there. He battled the elements, and now he gets to relax. No more hoarding food, freezing to death, being scared of the forest animals. He’s done it all. Foolishly, he thinks he can do whatever he wants now.
As if proving his point, he flies lazily to the birch tree where two young squirrels store food. Within seconds, the proud cardinal is soaring through the gray sky, carrying a heaping mouthful of food. Who says you have to work to survive?
The little boy watches all this and writes it down in big block letters. Then he closes his favorite rust-colored notebook, full now with all his observations. Carefully, he ties a green string around it and wraps Kleenex around this treasure. Prying open a loose floorboard, he places it gently inside the dark hole. Then, he walks out of the study and flicks off the light.
* * *
Fifty years later, the study has been transformed into the room of a little girl. Pink flowers decorate pink walls, and a white fluffy rug covers old wood floorboards. It’s one of the many renovations that have transformed the ancient house into a modern house for a modern family. Barely six years old, she’s twirling around and singing. At that moment, she stumbles over the edge of the rug and falls. Her hand hits the ground, and a snap echoes throughout the tiny room. Cautiously, she pushes the rug aside and sees a dark space where a floorboard used to be. Inside there is a package tied in gross green string and wrapped in yellow paper. She tears off the tissue and unknots the thread. A look of disappointment spreads across her face. Nothing important, nothing except a book. The book has yellowed pages and is full of writing that she doesn’t want to read. Sadly, she pushes the rug back and drops the journal onto her bed. A name is written into the front—Eddie Jones. She doesn’t make the connection, but Eddie is her grandfather.
Unaware of how special this book is, she puts it with her Barbie dolls. One day, she will grow up and read it again and take a second look at the forest outside. One day, she will give it to her kids, and one day they will give it to theirs. Right now, she’s just a child, and as she runs out of the room, a cardinal swoops over the sky.