Holiday Meadow  by Edith M. Patch


Part 1 of 2

A DECEMBER storm was blowing across Holiday Meadow. Snow drifted with the wind, the flakes fluttering over the field like flocks of tiny birds.

Dick and Anne, who were trudging toward a farm house, paused to watch the falling snow. They pushed their backs against the wind to keep from losing foothold. Their coats flapped at their sides like tugging sails.

Suddenly some of the distant flakes of snow seemed to grow larger and to move on white wings before the driving wind. The cousins blinked in surprise and looked again and saw, indeed, a flock of birds drifting with the snow. They were flying low, only a few feet from the ground.

A moment before there had been no sounds except those of the storm as it swirled against the meadow weeds. Now thin twittery notes mingled with the rough voice of the wind, making quaint winter music.


The snow buntings perched on a row of trees near the house.

The two looked at each other and smiled. "The snowflakes have come," said Anne. "It is early in the season for them, too; for we do not always see them in December, do we?"

"No," said Dick, "the snow must be so deep farther north that they could not wait any longer for their visit to us. They have probably been staying near the coast for some time before they came here."

In another minute the birds were out of sight and hearing. They had made the storm seem live and beautiful. "The darlings!" said one of the children. "They did not fight the wind. They flew with it as if they were a part of the storm."

Every year Dick and Anne watched for the snowflakes, or snow buntings as they are also called, that come from their arctic home to a more temperate climate for the winter and sometimes for the early spring.

It probably is not the cold that sends them southward for they are hardy birds and thrive in zero weather, or colder, if they can find food enough for their hearty appetites. But when the seedy tops of the arctic plants have become buried in snow, these birds seek fields where the snow is not so deep. Their southward winter flight depends more on the depth of the snow than on the coldness of the weather; and it takes place much earlier some years than others.

For weeks the flock of snow buntings that had flown past Dick and Anne in the storm visited the fields where for miles in all directions there was plenty of food. During that December even short plants stood above the snow that thinly covered the ground. Early in January the snow became deep enough to hide the clover heads and the grasses.


The tall sedges were bowed with snow.

Later in the month the cold white fluff was piled high against the stems of wild carrot, or Queen Anne's lace, the cup-shaped heads of which still held their seeds above the drifts. Then one night about the first of February there came a fall of snow that buried the tallest of the Queen Anne's lace plants. Even the mullein stalks held only the highest of their seed-pods in sight.


The snow covered all the plants except the tall ones.

Early the next morning when the cousins saw what had happened, Dick said, "The snowflakes will be hungry to‑day. We'd better get their picnic ground ready for them."

So the children put on their snowshoes and trampled back and forth and around and around in the yard south of the house until they had packed the snow rather hard and firm. Then they brought hay from the barn and scattered it over the packed snow and tramped that down, too, so that it would not blow away in the wind. The hay on the snow made a dark place that looked at a distance like bare ground.

When hungry birds see such places they come to hunt for seeds. There were some grass seeds among the dry hay but not enough for a real bird picnic. So the cousins brought out some clover seeds and poured them in several heaps near the hay.

The snow buntings had spent the stormy night several miles away in some rather sheltered spot. That morning, when they were ready for breakfast, they flew high overhead and looked down for signs of food. As far as they could see, the fields were white. So they flew on and on. The farther they flew the hungrier they became.

Then suddenly a small flock of the buntings saw a dark place in a dooryard not far from Holiday Meadow. It looked like bare ground. Perhaps there would be seeds there! They flew lower and lower and alighted near the edge of the meadow. They waited and watched the tempting dark place on the ground. It was close to a house and they felt timid. But most of all they felt hungry and there was nothing for them to eat on the white bare field.

The bravest of them flew a little way toward the spot, going low—only a few feet above the snow. Then he stopped flying and ran a while. He could not run very fast for his feet sank into the soft new snow and he had to wade. While he was wading the rest of the flock flew and caught up with him one by one. So wading and flying they approached the dooryard.

At last the bravest of the flock again flew ahead and this time alighted on some trampled hay beside a little heap of clover seeds. He began to eat. He was happy. He twittered as he ate. His comrades heard him twittering and came quickly to the feast. Soon they were all there—all eating seeds and all twittering.


The birds twittered while they ate.

The boy and girl watched them from inside the window. They stood quietly so that no motion should frighten the birds.

"The snowflakes have found their picnic," whispered Dick. "There are only twelve of them," said Anne wistfully, "I wish more would come."

Anne had her wish. The next day thirty buntings came to their picnic grounds and before a week had passed the flock numbered more than sixty.

After every storm, the children hurried out to tramp down more hay and heap seeds on the snow. Sometimes it snowed steadily all day and then they scattered fresh hay and put out new seeds about once an hour so that there would always be something for the birds to find.

The snow covered so many of the seeds and the large flock of birds ate so many more that it was not long before the clover seeds were gone. Neighbors gave the cousins leftover garden seeds but these would not last many days either. So Dick ordered a large sack of cracked grain from the store—a sort that is ground fine for very young chickens. This they mixed with their seeds and the buntings twittered as cheerfully while they were eating their new kind of food as if it had dropped from the seedy tops of meadow weeds.

Every now and then other snow buntings found their way to the picnic ground and by the first day of March there were more than one hundred in the flock.


The snow buntings found their picnic ground.

Among all these buntings there were no two that looked exactly alike. They were all pure white on the under parts of their wings and bodies. They all had rusty brown feathers and black ones on their sides and backs. But some had more white feathers and some had more brown ones and some had more black ones. The feather coat of each bird was thus a little different from all the others. Most of the birds had brown collars but these were of different shapes, some meeting in front and the edges of some not quite coming together, some being broad and some being narrow.


No two snow buntings were just alike.

The heads of most of the buntings were bright brown on top. Only two birds in the flock had no brown feathers at all on their heads and necks. The children called these two birds the "white-headed snowflakes."

The white-headed snowflakes did not often feed at the same pile of seeds. When they did so they stood at opposite sides. If another bunting came very near, one of the white-headed birds would spread his feet wide apart and make a sudden jumping motion toward the newcomer and scare it away.