Plague Times

During this time of plague, when the Queen of Viruses and the orange King of Dunces threaten our existence, I find comfort that, as a person well past middle age, I am easily amused by small things. And, in early spring, there are many such things to attract my attention.

For example, our house bear, Bonnie, let us know she escaped being shot during last fall’s bear hunt by snacking on our 14-foot high bird feeders last week. She’s too big to climb the poles, so she must have had help from one of her cubs. I can see the fresh indentations of its claws on the fir poles. Somehow, she learned to unscrew the wing nut holding one of the feeders together, and that feeder escaped harm. Dingo, half chihuahua, half mountain dog, found the wing nut in the woods and returned it, lightly chewed, to us. Good dog.

Robins arrived late last month and  devoured all the orange berries on our two hawthorn trees in a couple of hours, then flew on.   Last week the black birds arrived: flocks of grackles. red-winged black birds, and European starlings. They devour a half-pound of mixed seed in an hour.

Since bears are about, I take in feeders each evening and put them out in the morning, where a female hairy woodpecker waits for me. She is particularly interested in the suet cage, sits and cocks her head and fixes me with black eyes. The message is clear —hurry up. I believe she will be sitting on my fingers in a few more weeks.

In our realm of small marvels, we watch the goldfinches and house finches change colors. Olive drab and gray all winter, they now show colorful promise. Goldfinch chevrons are now distinct against pale yellow, and the house finches show reddish caps. Another couple of weeks and they’ll have their summer colors, ornaments on our magnolia until November.

House Finch

Springtime is like a high school reunion. You look around wondering who from last year will be back. Hellebores were tossing their white and purple heads around in February, letting us know how much they, at least, appreciated the climate change determined mild winter without snow. Witch hazel is now, late March, in full bloom, and volunteer daffodils in the woodlot are brilliant against the dull understory. The miniatures shown here are favorites.           

Witch Hazel
Miniature Daffodils

Another favorite is the aptly named skunk cabbage that pushes up in our wet areas now. This amazing plant generates its own heat— keeping its temperature constant at about 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit as it pushes up through snow and ice.

Then, of course, there is promise of what’s to come. Azaleas and elderberries have fat buds ready to pop. Green shoots already tease me in the flower garden. A supposed disadvantage of being old is failing memory. Not so. Because I don’t remember what’s supposed to be there, when it shows it’s a pleasant surprise. The high school friend who just came in the door.

Social distancing may be with us for many months. Fortunately, it doesn’t apply to the natural things that surround us all. Staying home doesn’t mean being cooped up. There are wonders outside.