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Thu Jul 14, 2011 11:54 am

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Fall was coming to an end, and the old man who lived alone in a cozy little house in the woods, could feel the first chills of winter. He gazed out the window in quiet wonder of the changes that were taking place. Not long ago, he had marveled at the magnificent display of color the trees had provided for his pleasure. Now, the same leaves that had swirled and danced in vivid hues of reds and yellows just weeks ago, lay exhausted on the ground, brown and withered. Winter was very near, indeed.

The old man never felt lonely in his little house deep in the woods. He spent his days tending his garden and his evenings reading books by the fire. He had only a few neighbors and, with winter approaching, would be seeing them less and less until spring.

His children were grown and often worried about him living alone. They would always try to persuade him to come and live with them in the city during the cold winter months. But his response was always the same. He would say that he loved his little house in the woods and that his neighbors needed him most during the harsh, snowy season. He would never explain any further, but there was always a twinkle in his eye when he spoke of his winter neighbors, as if he alone knew the answer to a secret riddle.

Walking outside with his sweater and gloves snuggly pulled on, he headed to the woodpile. A nice, warm fire on such a brisk night would be welcome, he thought. Overhead, the cries of a flock of migrating geese caught his ear and for several long moments, he gazed at them in wonder. No matter how many times he witnessed this event, it always seemed just as wondrous as the first time; as if nature was allowing him to view something no one else had ever seen.

Once the cries of the geese had faded, and the flock had disappeared into the distance, the old man went to collect his firewood from the pile. As he removed the first log, he spied movement from under the pile. Could it be mice, or perhaps, chipmunks, looking for a winter home? Carefully and quietly, he stepped back from the woodpile and decided to come back later, after the little ones had settled in.

As he headed back to the house, he heard a rustling sound in the woods behind his home. He turned slowly and saw a doe standing at the edge of the woods, almost in his backyard. As quietly as he could, he walked to the house and went inside. There was much to be done before the first winter storm, he thought.

It was icy cold and the ground was frozen the morning after the first blast of winter had visited during the night. The old rose bush by the back gate that had refused to surrender its last remaining petals and acknowledge that the long winter was approaching had given in during the night. The petals were gone and its canes were cloaked in ice and would remain frozen in time till spring.

The old man had set out quite a banquet for his winter neighbors. But, for himself, he chose just toast and tea. Carefully and excitedly, he carried his breakfast to the worn overstuffed armchair by the window. There, with a fire burning in the fireplace, he sipped his tea and waited.

The first to arrive were the red cardinals and chickadees! Eagerly they raced to the feeders for breakfast! The blue jays followed and soon the yard was alive with birds of all colors and sizes, feasting on the different seeds. The squirrels and mice arrived next and quickly ate the seed that the hungry birds were dropping from the feeders. Several deer soon arrived and dined on the dried corn that the old man had left by the back gate for them. He chuckled at the antics of the raccoon, for it had climbed into one of the feeders and was busy gobbling the sunflower seeds!

The old man sat in his chair, eating toast, sipping tea and watching his yard come alive as birds, deer, mice, rabbits and more visited throughout the morning, all feasting hungrily on the banquet he had arranged for them. As the morning went on, the phone rang. It was his daughter. When she asked him what he was doing this cold, crisp morning, he replied, "having breakfast with my neighbors!"


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