On a snowy winter day, old Hark is feeding the birds as he does every winter day when he is visited by Death, who wants to take him away. Death tells him it's his time, but Hark wants to stay until the spring so that the birds can both survive through the winter and know not to return next year since they will know he is no longer there. Death refuses. So they negotiate the time when Death will take him away based on a game of what he remembers about his life, which will test his mental faculties and thus fitness as a functioning human. This game ends up demonstrating why Hark is so protective of the birds.