As surely as leaves in the forest change color in autumn and fall to the ground, the nights will grow longer and colder through the bleak midwinter.

But the winter solstice marks the beginning of the lengthening of days. Every day, the sun climbs a little higher in the southern sky, and its rays penetrate more directly through the naked boughs to warm the leaf-strewn forest floor.

The elevating sun is a sign that the end of winter is near, and it soon sends me and Charlie Boy the Wonder Dog out sauntering along the Shenandoah River in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains. There we seek the first real signs of spring: the signs that promise marvels to my eyes and the assurance of new creation to my soul.