Cold. Damp. Dreary. Those three words had become imbedded in Chicory's mind.
The den was eerily grey, like twilight, and her eyes, while open, focused on nothing while those words echoed in her head. It was early spring. It was supposed to be warming up. Buds had just begun to appear on the tips of tree limbs, bearing the promise of leaves and green and growing things. Spring had been here! But now, surely the blizzard raging outside would rip them away like foxes raiding eggs from ground-birds' nests.
The thought of that brought a wave of melancholy. Chicory wondered, morosely, if this White-Cold was planning on sinking in its claws on a more-permanent basis. She didn't know how much more of cold, damp, or dreary she could stand. 'One more storm,' she thought, 'and I think I'll go as moon-mad as Owl ever did.' Or... maybe it was happening already.
As if it were tormenting her, a gust of wind snapped against the leather flap at the mouth of Chicory's den and tore loose one of the lashings she had tied to keep it secure. Greyness and swirling snow poured into the room.
Chicory shivered, pulled her bedfurs more tightly around her neck, and pressed herself as deeply into her bedbowl as possible in a feeble attempt at a retreat. She made no effort to get up and repair the damage the wind had just caused, even though the mouth of her den was now slowly accumulating a snowdrift. She didn't want to move. A part of her, deep down inside, hoped that if she ignored the storm outside, it would turn out to be just a figment of her imagination and would simply disappear. She just wanted it to go away!
The wind gusted again, accompanied by another inundation of snow. The denflap whipped wildly, and another of the lashings broke loose. Now there was nothing holding the brunt of the blizzard or wind back, and Chicory knew she could neither wish the storm away nor stay huddled up in her little sanctuary. Still, she hesitated to move.
“Aunt Chicory?” The voice was muffled and faint, almost as if it didn't really exist. But then, two mittened hands appeared and took hold of the flapping den-cover. A small, winter clothes-wrapped form ducked inside. Chicory didn't need scent to know little Foxtail had just entered her den. Sprigs of red hair peeked wildly out from gaps in the scarf that covered the youngster's head; that was enough of a give-away.
“Why is this blowing all around?” the cub asked of the denflap. She grabbed the loose ends of it and started to tie them into place the best her mittened hands would let her. Then, she realized that the task would be a lot more easily accomplished with no mittens on at all, so she pulled the scarf from her mouth and bit the ends of her hand-coverings to remove them.
Chicory knew – guiltily – that she couldn't let a cubling tie off the flap! With a grunt that just might have expressed frustration at having to get up in addition to the effort it took to throw her bedfurs to the side, she made herself get out of bed. She was freezing as she rushed over to the exposed door to secure the covering once again. Once the flap was tied off, Chicory didn't hesitate to scurry back to the security of her bedbowl and cover up – all without saying a word.
Foxtail turned in her direction, obviously not interpreting Chicory's anti-social behavior as such. She moved next to Chicory and put her hands on her hips in a youngster's interpretation of a scolding. “How come you're not down in the big den with all the others? It's too cold here. The wind is blowing too hard.”
Chicory wasn't sure how to answer, or even if she should. She didn't want to admit to the cub that she was sick of winter, that she was depressed, and that she really didn't want to be in the company of others right now. If it had been possible, she would hibernate all winter long in her den, like the bears and the ground-burrowers did. She wouldn't have to deal with the white-cold and all its long, miserable, nights then. She could happily emerge from hiding when the world was ready to be vibrant and alive... and warm.
She decided to answer Foxtail's question with one of her own. “What are you doing up here? Your mother and father will be worried about you.” She wasn't quite certain about that last bit — a part of her wondered if Windburn or Whispersilk had sent their daughter up to her den so they wouldn't have to keep an eye on her themselves.
Foxtail peeled off the majority of her heavier wraps, then pulled back the covers in the bed-bowl and climbed in. She didn't ask permission to snuggle, let alone place icy-cold hands behind her aunt's back. Chicory suppressed a shiver.
“Notch and Willow were teasing me and wouldn't let me play toss-stones with them,” the red-headed youngster muttered. “So I decided I didn't want to play with them, either. You weren't there, so I came looking for you.” She laid her head against Chicory's shoulder. “I'd rather be here with you than down there with them, anyway.”
“I see.” Chicory had to admit that she was finding she didn't mind the company, despite earlier thoughts of wanting to be alone.
“I can't wait until the New Green gets here.” Foxtail continued after just a beat. “I want to do something outside besides get pelted with snow. I'm sick of snow!”
'You don't know how much I agree with you, cub,' Chicory mused. She absently squeezed her chilly companion.
“Will you take me to the pond when the croakers start singing?” Foxtail was peering up at her with big, green eyes now. “Do the baby frogs really swim just like fish?”
“They do. Look —” Chicory sent an perfect image of a nearby snow-melt pond on a warm, Spring night – the perfect kind of night. Croaker-song was everywhere around, and the sound was deafening. Here and there along the still-muddy ground, a fat frog would leap into the pond with a very audible splash. Ripples would shimmer along the water's moonlit surface. Then, bending down, one could see tiny, flitting black shapes just below, near the muddy bottom. They were quick, just like minnows, and darted away from an eager hand's touch. **And when they get bigger, they grow legs and lose their tail.**
It was a favorite memory; thoughts of it and springtime always managed to cheer her up a little, even during these tough last weeks of the cold season. The growing look of wonder on Foxtail's face at the revelation that frogs grew their legs warmed Chicory's heart all the more. It always was fun to show cubs something about nature they'd never seen before.
“When can we go? Promise me you'll take me by myself?”
Chicory smiled. “Soon, Foxtail. Soon the winter's snows will be but a memory, and there will be plenty of snow-melt ponds.”
The answer seemed to satisfy Foxtail, and the cub fell silent. Chicory pulled the furs a little more closely around them both. It was true. The wind was howling now, but white-cold wouldn't last forever. Spring was just around the corner. It would come just as it always did, and with it would come a number of happy things to look forward to.