Alabama winters aren’t always so bad

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 27, 2006

It is usually about this time of year that winter gets to be tiresome. The sun rises too late and departs too early, and there are too many days when staying outdoors is an act of endurance.

The landscape is, well, scruffy. Most of the trees reveal the skeletons of their summer selves, although some of the maples let go of their dead leaves only reluctantly and space out the shedding process until new buds are swelling.

The leaves aren’t accumulating in the driveway as quickly as they did earlier in the winter, but they are deep in the flower beds and on the hillside.

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There is a certain beauty, though, in the leaves that cling to the beech trees. They are tan and have the patina of old leather.

Here on the lake, the season is marked by expanses of mud and clay and sand. Our house perches on a hill, and when the early morning sun strikes the houses across the slough, the view from our window resembles a coastal settlement at low tide. Here, though, the low tide lasts all winter. Around Labor Day the power company begins lowering the lake 10 feet to its winter pool. The water doesn’t begin rising again until mid-February. The trade-off for all that bare earth, though, is that the lake is remarkably quiet, with only an occasional fishing boat intruding on the silence.

And a good deal of the outdoors can be observed and enjoyed from behind a double-glazed window.

Visiting birds feast at the feeder hanging just outside the dining room window. They cling to the perches even when the wind is howling across the water. They even cling to the feeder when it is nearly empty, as if to shame me into filling it.

There are larger visitors, too. On many mornings, buzzards gather on the island that appears about 50 yards off our dock each winter when the lake goes down.

There are three dozen or more of them, and they mill about like teen-agers at the mall, trying to decide where they’re going to go.

Often they fall into ranks, and all facing the same direction they hold their wings out as if letting them dry in the morning sun.

I don’t know whether they have a leader or arrive at some kind of consensus, but eventually they wing away. Sometimes they swoop through the trees, passing our second-story windows at eye level.

I don’t know where they roost, though I spotted a tree across the slough filled with them. A few years ago, they were spending the day in a dead red oak tree near our back door. If I happened to be around, I’d rap on the tree trunk with a piece of two by four and they would fly away. I imagine that they were disappointed when we eventually had the tree cut.

Even though I know there is more winter to come, there are signs of life. The ivy on the hillside is green, and the rosemary bush in the herb bed is remarkably healthy.

The dogwoods and wild azaleas have buds, and daffodils are poking up through the pine straw.

I have not kept a record, but somehow this winter has seemed less onerous than most. The cold raw days have been interspersed with ones that are mild and clear. On the last day of December it was warm enough for us to take guests out on the pontoon boat. On a recent Sunday afternoon, my wife and I were comfortable in shirt-sleeves when we went for a stroll.

My friends in places like Minnesota and Montana tell me that our winters aren’t so bad. This year, I might concede their point.

-Bill Brown can be contacted at 377 Quail Hollow Drive, Dadeville AL 36853 or by e-mail at