When I first stepped outside into the gray morning, I did not go far. I paused. I felt as though I might lose my balance if I was not careful.

Surely, my booted feet were planted solidly on the snow-covered ground, but it was difficult to discern where the creek valley ground gave way to the sky overhead, and I briefly felt as though I could topple upward into the grayness above.

I closed my eyes, and when I opened them, I found both the horizon and my bearings, and I headed out across the snow-covered field to the chickens. My winter wool cap was on my head. I love this cap. I had left the ear flaps down, but I had not bothered to buckle it under my chin. I remember being so excited when I first found this treasure, because its red plaid perfectly matches my red chore jacket.

You see, I am a firm believer that farm fashion is of the utmost importance when doing chores, but actually, I have come to realize that a warm head really does make all the difference when working outside in the winter weather.

As I walked across a fresh dusting of snow, I looked down at the story left written there by those who had awoken far earlier than I. I saw the pattern of two long tracks, side by side, and two smaller tracks, one slightly ahead of the other. I knew that a rabbit had passed across the field, heading from the uphill woods, down toward the creek.

I could see the fine print of a red squirrel that had briefly left the woods at the base of a tree and ventured out into the field just a little way, where it had abruptly turned around and headed back for cover.

Perhaps the call of a hawk had scared it into returning to the woods. I was fairly certain that a hawk would not have cast any warning shadows on this cold gray day.

When I rounded the chicken coop and looked out toward the windmill tower, I could see several sets of heart-shaped tracks.

It looked as though four deer had passed from the upper woods out into the field and then had leisurely walked through the orchard, heading toward the trees at the far end.

One of them appeared to drag its left leg, just a bit, as the snow was etched both before and after its print. I scooped several handfuls of pine shavings into the chickens’ nest boxes, scattered their morning treat of scratch grain, emptied the ice out of their water bowls and refilled them with fresh water, and turned to head back to the house.

There in the snow I saw my own tracks. One trip to the little cabin for the pine shavings, a few of which had spilled out across the snow.

Another trip to the feed storage shed and back to the chickens, with a few of the grains scattered beside my footprints, and a last trip to the frost-free water spigot and once again back to the chickens.

I could see that some of the water had splashed out of my bucket and left gray divots in the white-covered ground, just beside my footprints.

As I walked back to the house, I reached up to pull my red hat warmly down around my chin. I smiled to think that I had read the morning story in the snow much as a fictional Scottish detective had once read clues in mysteries long past. He too had worn a special hat. I looked it up.

Sherlock Holmes wore what is known as a deerstalker hat, a hat that was originally worn by hunters, not detectives, but as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle set many of the detective’s most popular stories on Scotland’s rural moors, the stories’ illustrators had considered the headgear completely appropriate.

Once back inside our cabin, I pulled off my hat. I knew that it too was completely appropriate headgear on this cold, gray creek valley day. My head was toasty warm.

Christine Tailer is an attorney and former city dweller who moved several years ago, with her husband, Greg, to an off-grid farm in south-central Ohio. Visit them on the web at straightcreekvalleyfarm.com.