This morning's predawn sky was full of lowered clouds reflecting, on their soft, vulnerable bellies, presunrise sunlight. It looked like the universe was in the midst of a forest fire. Later, snow flurries dampened the glow and another gray day took hold. While driving home this afternoon I noticed a pair of pheasants, rooster and hen, pecking gravel or seeds along the cold shoulder. I'm happier seeing ruffed grouse than ringnecks, probably due to my New England upbringing. Ruffed grouse, with their more subdued coloring, were native to Massachusetts and northern New England. Pheasants were still considered gaudy, exotic, newcomers. Here in My Minnesota, they seem to fit in and be more at home in much of the state south of the Arrowhead and Central Lakes regions. They're often out of sight, skulking between corn rows or through reed canary grass or erupting from any weed-fringe missed by the disk and harrow. When at the Audubon Center in Sandstone last September, the blackboard held a notice from someone claiming to have seen nine pheasants. It seemed kind of far north to me for anything but a stray, but then I'm neither a pheasant nor a regular visitor to Sandstone. Maybe their range is extending northward as a corollary to global warming. This afternoon's pheasant pair helped remind me that during winter, beneath or beside the snow cover (and beneath the ice on our lakes) life goes on for native and adaptive inhabitants, including me. S(olstice) minus four and counting.