While the winter solstice is a few days away, its spirit arrived last week, when temperatures plummeted and sleet and ice covered the ground in a white and crunchy coating. The winding tendrils of summer’s itchy hop plants have withered and drawn back from the encroaching freeze, revealing bottles, cans, and wrappers formerly hidden by the tenacious invasive’s spreading leaves. As my boys set shards of ice and small stones skidding across the Monocacy’s ice, I gather the debris, not only for the satisfaction of cleaning, but also to keep myself warm. This time of year, I always wonder at the small animals who do without hats and gloves and fleece-lined boots, like the little nuthatches, sparrows, house finches and wrens that play in the brush, or the small group of bluebirds I spotted in the trees. It makes me feel almost ashamed of my eagerness to return home to heat, light, and a big mug of tea.