Monday, March 15, 2021

Bits and Pieces Coming Together for Spring


Like everyone else, I have found myself totally scattered and disconnected over the past year.  I have missed deadlines, have had days of total brain fog, and weeks  have flown by, despite days dragging, and I feel like I have not accomplished much at all.

The favorite of many through the winter, 
cardinals now declare their territory.

But it is feeling like spring and little bits are re-awakening.  While nature gets herself organized to begin the next season, we see there are disconnects in the seasonal changes too. We are not alone in feeling out of sync.  March is, in its very nature, a time of transition and change:  from winter to spring, from lions to lambs, from darkness to greater light.   To me, these transitions are positive ones. I much prefer the coming of spring and promise of warmth, than the cooling that comes with autumn. But both periods can be unsettling.

In vernal wetlands,
the skunk cabbage expands and opens.
Many creatures, including humans, respond to the lengthening days, more hours of sunlight. Others respond more to changing temperatures. Many react to both. It’s often a challenge, and  can be life threatening.

A day like today, as I write, was near 60 degrees. A gift of a day!   A day to burst out of the house and explore some patches of woodlands for thawed vernal pools and to check on the rapidly expanding skunk cabbages in the wetlands. It was a good day to rake out a few corners and uncover some woolly bears.   There were small gnats of some kind, bouncing in the air outside my window and there were houseflies and even a butterfly, a Cabbage white, nectaring on some snow drops.

The song sparrow will
sing a fuller song now.
Photo credit: Rick Newton

Listening in the morning, it is also interesting to note the different bird songs. For the most part, birds respond to day length. While a spring storm, or strong winds can sometimes alter their plans by a day or two, most are on a pretty consistent schedule. The juncos and white throated sparrows are singing their spring songs, but it is only a practice as they are getting ready to head back north.  In the same harmony, the cardinals declare their territories high from my dogwood tree and the house finches chatter  and sing. My favorite, the song sparrow, has raised its voice on occasion even during the cool gray days, but now tosses back its head and declares that it is spring with a fuller song. They have been here all winter and will be remaining here to nest.   A red-shouldered hawk screamed loudly today as it circled the woods. They are choosing their nesting sites. However, other  birds are just returning from their wintering grounds. Today I heard a killdeer, its distinctive call announcing its arrival. All are in transition, and today was a good day.

The plants are in transition too.  Many plants respond to the lengthening light of day. That really doesn’t change from year to year.  But the temperature swings that we experience at this time of year, can cause buds to swell too early, and a later, hard freeze can kill them. With our changing climate and changing temperatures, the plants and birds and insects are beginning to get out of sync.  We could always count on the quince to be blossoming at the same time the orioles arrive. They make good use of the nectar. But over the last several years, the quince have bloomed too early, and are pretty much done when the orioles arrive.   The robins arrive with the understanding that the ground will be softened and foraging for worms will be easy.  They can get pretty desperate when we get that hard freeze.

Pussywillows are a constant.


But they will transition, too

But, things always change. I think most of us have become a bit armored against certain changes. We have come to expect them. Some of them we can anticipate and deal with. We know not to put away the warm coats, or even the snow shovels yet.  Things change.  It is hard under normal circumstances, to adjust to seasonal transitions.  The climate changing has added some new challenges.  Being cooped up during the winter of Covid has made us even more restless. 

The best way that I can settle myself, is to try and embrace each day as it arrives.  It is not easy, nor am I always successful. But it is a goal, to see what each day brings and appreciate it. It can be another sunny warm spring day, or back to howling winter chill. Some days are quiet and others full of bird song.  But we know that, even though things may be unsettled from day to day, we can count on the greater cycles of nature to continue, and give us hope.

Please take care of yourself and others and our Earth as we head into our next transition. 

by Beth Sullivan

All photos by Beth Sullivan, except where noted.

They will stay until late April
but the white-throated sparrows will head north.

The oriole's arrival is timed to
coincide with the flowering trees.
The killdeer is really vocal when it returns in spring.