A Winter Tale

--by Kate Seaton

It was during the Depression and the height of winter in New England. Snow had been falling for days. The inhabitants of a small house near Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire weren’t newcomers to harsh winters. Lois grew up in mountainous “mile high” Colorado and Monty was a native of a state famous for extreme weather events: Nebraska.

Monty had spent weeks the previous Fall preparing for the coming of winter. He gathered branches and felled trees. Then he laboriously stripped twigs, cut branches and tree trunks into small lengths and finally split logs into kindling suitable for the wood-burning stoves which were the home’s source of heat. When his labor finally ended, wood was stacked high in a huge rectangle of an adult’s height and as wide as the house and barn. It didn’t seem possible all that fuel would be needed, but come late Spring, little wood would remain.

The couple had met a few years earlier in New York City, then a magnet for young adventurous Americans from all across the country. Lois was an artist, earning a living illustrating magazine and newspaper advertising and free-lance work. Monty was a published author who contributed articles to the many magazines originating in the city. He was slowly moving toward fiction and historical books.

Following a trend of that time for creative folks to move north to New England, Lois and Monty and their big black pet cat Seiki ended up in New Hampshire. He had encouraged the move, even stating that once the outside temperature was close to freezing, “You won’t notice the difference when it gets colder.” Over the years Lois remembered that comment and “begged to differ.” She would point out that a bucket of water, placed as a safety measure near a wood burning stove, froze solid every night in winter – yes she did “notice the difference.”

After weeks of demanding labor, winter became a time of some ease. Now there was time to read, listen to the radio, and to look forward to receiving and replying to letters. Also more time to earn some income as “freelancers.”

Deep snow creates an altered space. Sound is softened, almost muffled. It can be hard to pinpoint the source of even loud noises. Color disappears as buildings, trees and bushes lose outline to the mounds of white soft sparkling whiteness. Daylight grows shorter each day. It was an evening such as this that the couple sat chatting and reading together, close to bedtime. As the evening advanced, they were surprised to hear the “crunch, crunch, crunch” of footfalls heading toward their front door – it was very late for a visitor. They waited expectantly for the knocks on the door. And waited. There was no sound of fists hitting wood. A little mystery to wonder about, shrug, and return to some quiet reading. A short time later, the sounds returned, “crunch, crunch” – someone was definitely walking toward the front door and it was beginning to feel a bit spooky. Silence. When this was repeated, Monty got up and opened the door to see an unblemished vista of pristine snow with no footprints in sight. It was getting a bit spooky!

Shaking heads and feeling puzzled, they closed and put down books, turned off the lights and climbed upstairs to bed. At the top of the flight of steps, the crunching sound resumed and it was much louder. Following the noise, they discovered Seiki-the-big-black-cat was enjoying a grand nail sharpening on a heavy cardboard box: Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. A relieved laugh, and now, a good winter story.

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