Monday, March 20, 2017

And Spring Slips In



According to those who monitor these things, spring arrived at 6:29 this morning. For days now, I've been listening to the birds, noticing how different their songs are as they sing about the passing of yet another winter into memory. Oh sure, we might get a few more flakes or maybe even another full-fledged weather "event." But as the earth turns her face toward the sun, anything the clouds send down from here on out won't create much of an impact and will be gone much more quickly.

It's interesting to note that, while I wasn't up at that time this morning, I was awake, listening to a loud symphony of crow music outside my window. I do sometimes get up a bit sooner than that and toss some bread out, and it seems I've created some sort of ritual in the process, as it doesn't take long for the crows to swoop in from somewhere to get at the scraps before the turkeys and gulls and squirrels do. But beyond that, I also heard a cardinal, and the tufted titmouse was finally singing its spring notes.

Not long ago, a snow-removal crew shoveled all the snow off the roofs here, and they bent my shepherd's hook over in the process. At the time, the ground was still frozen solid, so I couldn't do anything about it. Yesterday, though, I was easily able to bend it back to some measure of straightness, as the soil it's standing i was very pliable and cooperative. I also shoveled some of the snow away, exposing more of that soil in the process. And now, that whole area is bare and dark brown against the surrounding banks, a welcome sight for these winter-weary eyes.

One thing is certain: if the temperature does approach 50 degrees F. today, as predicted, there will be plenty of melting going on. The trees are also ready to leaf out, as is evidenced by the fat swollen buds on the ends of the maple branches across the parking lot. I read somewhere that the maple sap stopped flowing once the weather turned cold again, so hopefully the tappers will be in business again now that the days are warming...

...which they can't help but do as the earth turns her face toward the sun and continues to do so at the rate of 1,000 miles per hour until what snow there is no longer stands a chance.


Saturday, March 4, 2017

Our Daily Bread

Through the years, I've made it a practice to dispose of any stale or moldy bread that I happen to have by tossing it outside to the birds. And during that time, I've come to also be familiar with what is known as bird bread. From doing this for so long, I've also come to learn which avian species most appreciate my handouts and which couldn't be bothered. And I've come away from it with some interesting facts as well as a storehouse of memories watching the birds actually going at it when several slices of bread fly out a window or the front door and onto the grass.
While some might argue that there is indeed a method to it from the point of view of what's easiest for the birds to deal with, I've found that it really doesn't matter. If they're hungry enough, which they almost always are, they are prepared to deal with everything from small pieces to entire slices without much ado. The important thing here is that the bread is there, and they don't seem to be too bothered by what form it happens to be in.
Here, on a Saco, Maine (USA) side street, the property lends itself well to distributing the bread either from the front door or from a rear living room window. There are screens on all the windows here, and I have intentionally left the screen off one rear window off all winter so that I can toss the goodies out there. Not only do the birds benefit, but the squirrels are often up for a bread meal as well, so nothing is ever wasted. And that's not even taking into consideration the nocturnal animals, such as raccoons and skunks, that clean up anything that might be left behind while the rest of the animal population sleeps.
During the nearly two years I've lived here, I've had the honor of sharing my daily bread with crows, wild turkeys, blue jays, and seagulls. The latter are the brutish scavengers that swoop in aggressively, having spied, sometimes from a great distance, the incongruous objects on the lawn before heading this way to clean up. And it doesn't take them long either, for they are perfectly capable of swallowing multiple slices of bread whole, their necks swelling in unbridled and bestial gluttony. Meanwhile, the crows, the very ones who are the first of a morning to send out the call that it's breakfast time, stand off to the side, hoping that some tidbit is overlooked, which rarely happens when the gulls are involved.
If the local flock of resident wild turkeys is present, some interesting confrontations sometimes ensue between the two larger species, with the turkeys running at the gulls in an effort to chase them off. That's not usually effective, though, as the gulls simply take to the air where they circle around until it's safe to land again. Following this feeding frenzy, there is usually not much left, but it's interesting to note that the smaller birds, such as juncos and titmice, manage to find some wee bit to eat, something too small and insubstantial for the larger birds to bother with.
To keep the smaller fry happily satiated, I've been known to stand at the kitchen counter breaking the stale bread up into tiny pieces fit only for them. Too insubstantial to be noticed by the gulls, they do appeal to the turkeys, which, like their other poultry cousins, subsist by spending vast amounts of time pecking at whatever the ground has to offer. It is only after that when the smallest species move in, undisturbed, to glean what is left with their small bills.
The old adage of "waste not want not" applies here, for indeed, nothing IS. I've been doing this for so long now that it no longer even occurs to me to toss a moldy half-loaf of bread into the trash. Instead, I automatically and instinctively take the bag to the door or window and start tossing. While nothing is wasted in the end, there is also much to be gained in the knowledge that I'm helping to get my feathered friends through another winter as I share with them each day "our daily bread."

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Not Winter...Nor Spring

It's that time of year again here in northern New England when there seems to be some indecision as to whether winter is indeed over. Yes, spring is officially only a little more than three weeks away, but we've been known to get some pretty wintry weather at this time of year. It's like Old Man Winter is puffing himself up like the robins I see in the trees outside my window and saying something like "I'm not finished with you yet!" And then, at first light, there are the birds singing as they haven't since last summer, which indicates that we're much closer to the start of spring than to that of winter.

Birds know things we don't about air pressure and sunlight and live their short lives by laws we only find fascinating in the reading of. Although species like the American robin often doesn't migrate very far and the Northern Cardinal never leaves, neither sings until spring, leaving no doubt that the season has indeed arrived.

After the spate of snowstorms we have here recently, this sunshine and higher temperature are both welcome. Snowbanks shrink daily, the sun casts shadows that stick around a bit longer, and even the sky seems bluer between what few clouds there are. There's a smell in the air, too, that is absent during the winter's bleakest moments, the aroma of the earth reawakening and moving back to her vanity where all manner of scents are to be found...that of the thawing soil and the sweet aroma of the burgeoning grass...the intoxicating headiness of the first flowers and the fresh smell of rain washing what's left of winter away.

While winter's not quite done with us yet, I still love this time of year. We can give ourselves permission to hope now, for it no longer takes as long to count out what time is left before the first leaves appear on the trees and the geese head north again.

"Poor, dear, silly Spring," the poet Wallace Stevens wrote..."preparing her annual surprise!" How accurate an assessment that is! For no matter how sure we are that she's coming, no matter how often we greet her or how many winters we've lived through, what she brings is indeed always a surprise and always, always, a lovely one!



Saturday, February 11, 2017

Night Light

As a child, I always assumed that night time meant the complete absence of light. Of course, that was when my youthful imagination came into play based on the many Saturday morning cartoons I watched that always depicted "night" as a solid black screen, often with just two big cartoon character eyes glowing in the middle of it. Since then, I've lived in many different places where the night is hardly ever completely dark, due mainly to the glow from street lights and the porch lights that some people leave on all the time.

My first exposure to total night darkness came when I moved to the woods of Lyman, Maine in 1999. There, I experienced as complete a blackness as is possible, which was hard to get used to at first. But it didn't take me long to come to appreciate it as a comforting shroud that descended on my world at the end of the day. The sounds that came from those woods at night also made for an interesting study in the habits of nocturnal animals, and to which I thrilled each night as I turned off my lights.

In time, though, I realized that, no matter where we are, no night is ever completely devoid of some shred of light, and that is best illustrated when the moon is full or in winter during a snow event. I can still remember how the light from a full moon pierced through the tops of the trees to depict their trunks as long shadows on the pale beige ground. As the moon moved in the sky, the shapes changed accordingly until dissipating at the sun's first touch. If clouds moved in to block the moon's light, the night was still brighter than on nights when the moon had completely waned, bathed in an eerie muted glow that cast everything around me into misty unidentifiable shapes.

After a winter storm, however, moon or no moon, I learned there is always some residual light lingering in the atmosphere, and it is this that the snow appropriates as its own, bouncing off snowbanks, rooftops, from tree branches and reflected on every single falling flake. Snowy nights in the woods are far from dark, and I often went out to experience this along with the softened silence and whispers of flakes falling on dried leaves.

There was a full moon last night, and once again, my bedroom was bright and the shadows of trees outside my window sharp and long. In spots, the snow was shiny like a new nickel, and in others, its accumulated mass sparkled like piles of gems, free for the taking.

And once again, I joyfully partook and sent the moon my silent "thanks..."


Saturday, January 14, 2017

Memories of a Pond

Not that long ago, home was a small loft apartment overlooking a pond.  While I spent just three years there, I will always treasure the experience. I'd always known that a fresh body of water had a personality all its own. But it wasn't until I lived near one, where I could observe it every single day, that I learned just how varied all its emotions could be.

It was autumn when I first arrived there, and I spent many hours looking outside the large window that had wisely been placed on the side of the building facing the pond. On nice days, I sat on my little deck, high above the ground and from where I had a perfectly expansive view of the ever-changing water. Some days, it was calm and still as a mirror, and others, as rough and choppy as the sea, its tiny wavelets capped with white foam as the wind whipped the surface into a frenzy.

During my first winter there, I watched as the pond froze over and less and less blue water was visible. Then, when the snow moved in, it was as if the area were just another vast field across which nothing moved save for the few souls who ventured out to poke holes in the ice through which to lure fish. On sunny windy days, the snow swept across in blue-white ripples. And at night, lights from the opposite shore illuminated the darkened expanse in large v-shaped swaths.

Spring saw the pond opening up again, shedding its winter layer in large sheets that slammed up against each other until the temperature rose just enough to erase them entirely. Summer  was a lush green experience, with vegetation in the form of trees and low shrubs draping over  all its shores as far as I could see. And the wildlife that flocked there was immeasurably wonderful to behold: great blue herons, mallard ducks, Canada geese, common loons, and kingfishers plied the waters daily, while bald eagles, ospreys, pileated woodpeckers, hawks and ravens flew over guarding their domain. Smaller birds flocked to my feeders daily, and one summer, a phoebe made her nest right under the deck, trusting me enough to rear her young close by.

Deer, foxes, raccoons and skunks were also frequent visitors. And once, I watched patiently as a turtle made its way laboriously toward the water, its short legs pushing it along over piles of dead leaves and protruding rocks. Squirrels made their homes in the surrounding trees, while chipmunks engineered their kingdom beneath the soil, popping up at random places and chattering to each other from hole to hole.

I took hundreds of photos there, penned many words, took many walks, and thought many thoughts. Those three years were an education like no other, and I graduated with the honor of having been there to see it all. Moonlight casting its haunting glow across a dark glassy surface, wake ripples left by boats, and sun stars sparkling on the water are all among the many memories I will cherish forever.

I've been fortunate to the point where I wanted to share my experiences with others. Many people never know the joy of living in such a place, and there was a time when it was only a dream of mine as well. But dreams have a way of coming true, as I've learned, and their stories are only improved in the re-telling.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Starting Over...Again

I catch it every year. No, not spring fever. It's much too early for that. Or is it?

This is, rather, a sort of prequel to spring fever that I get every year about this time. The holidays are blessedly behind me again, and then there is that gap during which there is nothing at all to celebrate. So, I start celebrating the slow approach of the next season.

Unlike fall, which I also love, spring offers me more options. I can start browsing through seed catalogs and planning what I'm going to order, which isn't much anymore, as all I do now is grow things in containers. But still, it fulfills that need to grow SOMETHING, anything, that has never left me no matter where I've lived. I can also start thinking along the lines of starting some plants indoors. My options here are once again few, as I get sunlight only through the kitchen windows. Whereas my cat loves to perch on the table to look out the window, setting some pots up there is not an option. Not only are they in both our ways, but she loves to dig in the dirt. As an indoor cat, that's quite a treat for her, as is nibbling on the first few green things that appear above the soil once the seeds have germinated.

My only viable option to get things going on is the counter that spans the space beneath my other kitchen window. The window itself isn't high, but it is long, and the sill is wide enough to support a row of small pots. It does entail removing my decorative cobalt blue and clear glass collectibles. But it's a trade-off, as most things in life worth doing are. I can also perch small pots on top of storage canisters where they will also benefit from the bright sunlight. There, I can pretty safely get things going and keep them going long enough for them to be ready to put outside once the weather warms above 40 degrees F. at nights. Not only am I getting my garden ready, I also have signs of new life to enjoy inside until April. And the cat seems not to have discovered that cache or is just not interested.

It'll probably be my old reliables again this year: marigolds (of course), zinnias, and nasturtiums. Some parsley and maybe some basic...I saved lots of seeds from last year's plants, so that will save me a little money. Otherwise, I'll shop the dollar stores and treat myself to one extravagant purchase from a company like Burpee or Gurney's. That kind of makes it official that the growing season is once again off to a start. And as the old saying goes, "There is no time like the present!"

Indeed, there is not!