April 2012

When this newsletter comes out, perhaps temperatures will be a bit more seasonable, but as I sit here writing, it is night, and it is 63 degrees. Our windows are wide open without a hint of breeze. It is hard to even place myself in the proper season. The time change comes so early now, and this hot daylight seems to stretch itself out before us like a distorted haze.

Is it truly quiet when I am out in the woods; is it silent in the morning? Or is it only that it is way too early for a rousing dawn chorus? Migration is just beginning. I heard an Eastern Phoebe call in the distance the other day when I was out. The American Kestrels are back at Kip’s Barn in Sapsucker Woods, and Great Blue Herons and Belted Kingfishers are on local streams. I have a sense of millions of wings rushing towards us, and I feel a dread that they will not find what they need when they get here. High pollen alerts have appeared on the weather page for the past two weeks. Red Maple flowers cover the branches with a vibrant blush. I have to pinch myself to remember that it is mid-March. And even then it does not truly register in my mammal brain. The leaves are springing out of their bud covers on all trees, and it is this new tender growth that caterpillars munch and thrive on. Will the warblers, thrushes, orioles, and catbirds find what they need? The skies are hard blue; white puffy clouds drift slowly between me and powerful rays of the sun. There is no shade, and dust blows off the plowed farm fields.

Next door my neighbor has just had his big old apple tree cut down, having become sick of cleaning up the apples from his yard in the fall. He cut down a large, ancient Cottonwood so the fluff does not collect in his gutters, and he pulled out the hedgerow between our yards that had become unmanageable. All of these perches and shelters taken away from the birds that fly to my feeders. In my yard, where I am trying to grow winterberry and elderberry, yellow birch and gray dogwood, I am finding myself in an unwelcome battle with White-tailed Deer who need to browse. In my attempt to create a working habitat for wildlife, I have fenced in as much as I can with plastic mesh and metal poles. We do not really know how to tread lightly on this earth. The human foot is heavy and unrelenting.

It is true too that so many of us have forgotten even how to notice. I watched last year as people walked under an oak tree with a Baltimore Oriole in his bright orange and black beauty, his throat vibrating the melody that we all can latch on to in one note. And no one even looked up. You don’t need to know what it is, but you do need to look. And then you need to care. But I don’t need to tell any of you. You all know it deep inside.

What are we confronting? What are all the beautiful creatures of the earth confronting? None of us really knows yet what will come. People keep asking, “What are the birds doing with all of these changes in the weather?” We don’t quite know yet. When we do know, will it be too late?

So no, I don’t think it’s a beautiful day. A beautiful day is when it is the kind of day it is supposed to be, with blankets of snow slowly melting into the ground; a hint of warmth in the air; a few snowbells bravely displaying their white, sepaled throats; and the trill of a Song Sparrow ringing out in deep cold, as a harbinger of what still remains to come.

- Linda Orkin