Even before I left the house this morning, I could hear them singing.

As if cheering for the first light we had seen in the sky in weeks, the song sparrows and cardinals sounded a chorus of “There it is! The sun! The sun! The sun!”

And even as the sun rose in the east, a half-moon clung to the western sky – clearly visible because there were no clouds! No clouds! No clouds!

As I walked up the hill toward the Denison University campus, a chilly breeze tickled the oak and beech leaves that apparently didn’t realize they were supposed to fall from their trees months ago. As the dry foliage fought the tug of the wind, it sang its own rustling song on this glorious first day of February.

Glorious because the specter of winter was missing this morning. In its place was hope for spring.

I passed a student on Chapel Walk as I headed toward my office to fetch books and papers for my 8:30 class. As we were the only two people on the sidewalk at that early hour, I smiled and said hello. She didn’t hear me. Her ears were concealed by ear-muff-sized headphones.

She kept her head down and her stride quick. And I felt sad for her. She couldn’t hear the nuthatches chirping or the crows caw, caw, cawing. She missed the low rumble of diesel engines in a train rolling through the valley four miles south of Granville and the bellowing of its horns as it lumbered through one grade-crossing after another.

Overhead on the Academic Quad, the buzzards circled silently. Was I walking so slowly that they saw me as another deer carcass along a country road?

Or maybe they were drawn to the smell of smoked bacon sizzling in the kitchen at Slayter Café, an aroma pushed to the sidewalk outside the Denison student union by a rattling, whirring exhaust fan as if to coax passersby to breakfast.

But off to class we went, to the songs of a robin who clearly refused to fly south for the winter and a blue jay scolding the other birds as the big, blue and white bullies are known to do.

Then came the shrill and threatening screech of a hawk, or maybe one of the eagles that live in a massive sycamore just west of Granville.

And all the little birds held their breath.

For a minute.

Then the singing began again with more gusto: “There it is! The sun! The sun! The sun!”

Alan Miller writes for The Reporting Project, the nonprofit news organization of the Denison University Journalism program, which is funded in part by the Mellon Foundation and donations from readers.

This essay was written as part of an assignment Miller gave students in his Introduction to News Reporting and Writing class as an exercise in observing our surroundings and noting the details writers can use to show readers the people and places we cover.