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Spring comes a-calling


Wednesday, March 07, 2018 6:14PM

I wonder if older people are more eager for spring than younger people are. I am very eager. I’ve been cataloguing signs.

Sunday, red-winged blackbirds were scratchily vocal in a neighbor’s treetops and juncos were trilling from dense cover along the roadside stonewall. Both were low-hormone endeavors. Hormones rev up as light returns, and with them a male’s territorial and courtship song.

A purple finch male showed up at our feeders last week, rivaling the male cardinal for color, although more nuanced and more deep raspberry than purple.

Thoreau wrote, “It has the crimson hues of the October evenings.” I turned to Thoreau, curious if there was an older name more reflective of the bird’s color, and found sunset hues instead.

Our handsome state bird travels through, each spring and fall, to and from their breeding territory farther north in the state and on into Canada.

Range maps show them nesting at our latitude, but not that I encounter. We always celebrate a sighting.

During full-blown migration, a small group sometimes shows up for a feeder visit, males and females. I often read that as climate warms, New Hampshire will lose its state bird as purple finch breeding territory shifts ever northward.

Blue birds come by now and again, snacking on a suet cake and a few hulled sunflower seeds. Typically they explore a nestbox as part of the visit, a reminder that I need to clean nestboxes. I lay old pine needles down, rightly or wrongly thinking they make a nestbox more inviting.

Chipmunks emerged from their winter dormancy over a week ago. Red and gray squirrels remain active through the winter months, but “chippies” store impressive amounts of food in their tunnels. They wake from dormancy to feed as needed, but not to leave their burrows.

A small, very tidy hole in your lawn indicates where a chipmunk recently emerged. They close the entry for their dormant months, all the better to keep weasel predators out. Long and skinny, a short-tailed weasel (ermine) is built just right to navigate chipmunk tunnels.

Non-animal signs of spring: Frost heaves are flattening out; dirt roads are muddy. Carl came home with Dublin School’s first maple syrup batch. Each and every happening lifts my spirits, mud included. Above all, and ruling just about all: The light returns. Plants and animals respond, their light receptors triggered and I believe we human animals to, too. Temperature plays a secondary role. It wakes dormant mammals in their underground dens where light never varies; robins head north along the 38-degree Fisotherm — the averaged night and day temperatures.

I don’t know how to explore the hypothesis that older people welcome spring more eagerly. I think we do find winter more challenging, but suspect that everyone everywhere celebrates spring, young, old and in-between.

As part of the exploration, I turned to Thoreau’s “Walden” and the last chapter,

“Spring.” It’s not easy reading. There’s a lot about the mesmerizing patterns of sandy runoff along the railbed near Walden Pond. All I could think about was erosion delivering sediment into waterways, impacting water health, something town and state codes try to avoid. He wrote a lot about ice, too, thundering, tinkling.

My attention continued to wander until this, towards the end: “The first sparrow of spring! The year beginning with younger hope than ever! The faint silvery warblings heard over the partially bare and moist fields from the bluebird, the song-sparrow, and the red-wing, as if the last flakes of winter tinkled as they fell!”

Spring brings rebirth. The grass is green, “the symbol of perpetual youth,” emerging from last year’s brown (dead) hay; the channel of open water is “full of glee and youth. . . Such is the contrast between winter and spring. Walden was dead and is alive again.”

The pond is “full of hope as in a summer evening.” And this: “In a pleasant spring morning all men’s sins are forgiven” —even the “debauched neighbor.” He goes into great detail about that debauchery, on and on, somewhat oddly, finally concluding that we “feel the spring influence with the innocence of infancy, and all his faults are forgiven.”

Winter is the night; we emerge in the morning of spring. From Thoreau, I turn to Hal Borland whose writings about nature’s daily changes never disappoint, and my attention never wanders.

Back a while, Borland wrote a weekly Sunday editorial for the New York Times that perfectly captured nature’s goings on. They were a treat, and recently I found a blog online that reprints one with photos every few days.

Here’s a recent posting, reprinted from Hal Borland’s “Sundial of the Seasons”: “There’s one thing about a big snow in March. It hasn’t the staying power of a January snow. It can clog and confuse mankind’s daily life and make our complex routines both hazardous and difficult for a little while, but snow melts and ice thaws in March as it seldom does in January. . . The implacable strength of seasonal change is visible even against the snowbanks. . . The snow comes, and the snow goes. And the sun makes March a time of change. There is a difference, January to March — the sun,the daylight, the urgency of root and bud and sap, the fundamentals. . . The Vernal Equinox is near.” (Link: <www.facebook.com/halborlandwriter/&gt;)

I write as a March snowstorm heads this way. Snow will come and go, as Borland writes, but the light will grow.