Jeff eased the truck to a stop and reached down to put it into 4-wheel drive. He rubbed his eyes; it had been a long night. The snow was coming down now as tiny glittery crystal shards. He peered through the windshield calculating whether he would be able to get up the drive. 24 inches was a lot of snow. He lowered the plow, revved the motor and started up the long hill.
Six more houses to go-then home.
The west wind howled around the house and blew snow across the road as he finally turned into his driveway. Lowering the blade and starting to scrape, by force of habit he glanced up at the house for lights. There was a faint glimmer in the kitchen; he shrugged, he must have left the light on over the stove. That was not like him, but he had stumbled out when he got the call.
After finishing the drive, he parked down by the garages – ready to leave again for the next round. He gathered up the shovel and salt to start clearing the walk. As he came around the side of the house, the front door opened a crack and a hand with a steaming cup of coffee reached out. He stopped stunned. He knew that hand. His son, Mike, must have come home during the storm. He smiled gratefully, took a big gulp, burnt his tongue and set the mug down on the porch. He hoped Mikey would stick around for a while this time.
As Jeff started to shovel a path to the back of the house, he noticed the indentations in the snow. Apparently Mike had been out to fill the feeders sometime during the storm. The feeding stations were packed. There were birds perched on the branches of the trees and shrubs. There were Cardinals and Juncos on the ground eating seed.
Suddenly they all scattered.
Jeff looked up scanning the sky. It must be a hawk, but he saw nothing. A few of the finches settled back down on the Nyger sack. A Downy Woodpecker hadn’t moved from the suet cage that hung from a nail hammered into the oak.
Jeff stamped his feet and rested the shovel against the house. He stretched his back. His shoulders ached. He turned to go in the house when a brown hawk streaked across the yard. The birds disappeared again. The downy looked up and froze, its beak smeared with suet. The Sharp-shinned Hawk flew off banking to make another run.
The Downy flew up to the underside of a large horizontal branch and hunkered down. It became a flat black and white smear. Jeff froze too. The Sharpie flew past the oak again completely ignoring him. The Downy did not move. Jeff could see it; but hidden under the branch, the Sharpie could not. The hawk circled a few more times, and then flew off still searching.
Jeff picked up the stone cold mug and opened the door to warmth and the smell of bacon. The snow had stopped but the sky still looked ominous. He was ready for breakfast and a nap. He glanced through the window as he shrugged out of his coat and saw the downy once again up to its beak in suet.