IN HOUSEHOLDS all over the region yesterday morning, assortments of gloves, scarves and hats made an appearance for the first time in, well, several seasons - varied collections of wool, polypropylene, fur and leather surviving from winters' past.

Even some teens - often given to studied underdressing throughout the gathering fall - evidently picked through the multihued piles to arm themselves.

Can there be any surer sign that winter has arrived?

And this year, it arrived not only right on schedule - today, of course, marks the winter solstice - but with a sudden slap!

By Sunday dinnertime, those who had been reveling in this fall's relative warmth could no longer afford denial. A weekend that may have begun with raking leaves ended up with the small but firm hint of blizzards shortly to come. At 3 Sunday afternoon, the temperature was a pleasant 40 degrees - right before the wind picked up, the snow began falling and the thermometer began a more-than-20 degree overnight descent to downright nasty.

Carl Sandburg wrote, "The fog comes on little cat feet." With apologies to the late poet and editorialist, this winter arrived like a big-footed dog pouncing on a toasty bed long before the alarm was set to sound.

No chance to go back to the warmth of sleep. Got to get up and face the big dog of winter. On a Monday morning, no less. We suspect even a few dogs - their feet big or small - retreated from their morning walks as they encountered patches of ice and that swirling, biting wind.

More's to come, no doubt. Much, much more.

Skiers and ice-skaters may find something to look forward to in that, and we shall pick no arguments with them. We do enjoy, we admit, an occasional snowman and a well-thrown snowball.

But let's face it: Driving to work yesterday morning - having rooted around for that ice scraper, with the car heater on full blast, wary of the ice here and there, watching exhaust plumes billow into the frost - weren't you constructing a mental calendar of the coming months? January. February. March. Yes, March, as much as we'd like to pretend it will be over before then. We've got at least three more months.

Later this week, the temperature may be back up in the 50s again. But here's a tip: Leave those gloves, scarves and hats out - and see if you can locate that snow shovel.

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