We did get enough rain in April, I suppose. At least, the flowers are coming out in the woods, and it is May. Late yesterday I dug up some wild leeks for dinner (which, if I may say, was a particularly good dinner, even though I had never made it before and, if you are curious, was a sort of mini-calzone stuffed with those leeks and garlic and extra sharp cheddar and dang!) and I found some blood root blooming among the leek leaves. Nearby were several clusters of Carolina Spring Beauties.
Earlier in the morning I walked in the woods to find Golden Winged Warblers (I didn’t find any but I did find a Golden Winged/Blue Winged hybrid!). I found some Garlic Mustard while I was looking for birds; I was hoping to find some of that while I dug up my leeks but, wrong woods.
The flower of the day was Dutchman’s Breeches. First, that name is killer. I mean, who uses the term breeches? Old school, know what I’m saying? But those flowers, they really do look like, well, the puffy pants that one of those historical Dutch sailors might wear. They ain’t roses, but they look pretty cool. They look like spring.
We are in those early days of spring when it is still chilly in the morning, but the world keeps getting greener, when the leaves are not fully out yet and peepers sing at night. Winter has left the scene but summer still has a way to go before she arrives.
I have to get out as much as I can to find birds now. Every day new summer residents arrive. This morning I heard my first Common Yellowthroat and I heard two Field Sparrows singing at once, which is unusual around here. A Barred Owl calls all day in the woods above our house, and that Phoebe nest that sat above the porch light all winter is getting rebuilt. In the woods, leaves are still buds. That means I can see the warblers as they hop from branch to branch in the tops of maples. In a month some of those little dudes will be heard and not seen.
Spring flowers are out as well. Marsh Marigolds are blooming, bright yellow flowers and bright green leaves among the leaf litter in the woods. And Trout Lilies, those dainty pale yellow bells, have emerged. Ferns are still curled into fiddleheads, and wild ramps carpet the forest floor.
Spring’s arrival is a gift right now. It is a gift any year, I suppose, but after being inside so long, after worrying about the health of family and neighbors, after staying away from others, it feels especially powerful. A friend said the other day that she has never noticed spring as much as this year. When you spend less time moving around you have more time to pay attention to what is right there.
I plan to get out early again tomorrow, to listen and to look. I may startle the beaver that slaps its tails when we walk past on the bridge, or the wood ducks dipping into the grass on the river’s shore, but I will try to stay calm enough to avoid disturbing them. Every day the world changes a little, layering on spring. If I don’t pay enough attention, summer will arrive and I will have missed some of spring’s wonderousness. Wonder can be found at any time of year, but spring is when it puts on its best display. I would hate to miss the show.
It is the season of wild leeks. That season is short. In the woods, green covers the forest floor. The bright new leaves pierce the dried maple and beech leaves that fell in the fall. When the sun shines through the bare branches, you can smell them.
My son and I popped into the woods late in the afternoon. We each had a trowel. We dug up some leeks. Drive the trowel straight down, pull it back to loosen the soil and shake out some leeks. They are sort of similar to leeks you might buy in a market, but much smaller, smaller than typical scallions. And they are softer, more fragile. We made a small pile, enough to hold in one hand. Bright green on one end, covered in dark dirt on the other.
I washed them in the sink. I collected quite the pile of soil in the trap, mixed with a few dried leaves and grass stems. I had a clean bunch in the end, ready to be made into soup. I cubed several potatoes and sliced the leeks, tossed them with butter and olive oil, and sauteed. I added some water, some stock, some salt and pepper, and cooked it all into a soup.
I also made dinner rolls. I hear yeast is getting hard to come by. We always have a lot on hand anyway, so we are good to go for now. Dinner rolls are like the lazy bread–make some dough and knead it and let balls of the stuff rise in a pan. Then bake it and… fresh rolls, easy and quick. Soup and bread–pretty standard dinner around here.
Oddly, by the time the soup had reduced and gotten thick, it turned a bit green. I mean, the leeks were green but I have never had them turn other stuff green. And this new green was much darker–not the bright green of the fresh leeks. So it had a bit of an off color, but it was dang tasty. Those cut leeks smelled strong before they cooked down so I admit was a little nervous that I had put in too many leeks, but my fears ended up being unfounded.
Our wild leek window is small so I need to dig up some more before they fade away. Omelets? Quiche? Pizza topping? I’ve got lots of options. Especially if I want some green food.
There have been a few crocuses popping up but I’m not sure they count. The first flowers of spring are really Colt’s Foot. They pop out of the leaf litter on the roadside, yellow stars among last year’s crumpled leaves.
In the woods now, wild leeks emerge. There is a place nearby where I can see down and down into the trees as they slope downward to the west. This time of year it is clear of undergrowth. The floor of the forest grows green with wild leeks as they pierce the matted vegetation. Like crocuses they come from waking bulbs.
I will find my way into the woods behind our house, bend down and dig. I will pull some wild leeks from the soil and turn them into soup. I will bake bread and serve them with the soup. We will taste spring in our house.
Today, as the sun rose, the river smelled like more than melted snow. It smelled like earth and rain and new grass. I stood where the river flows under the road. Colt’s Foot bloomed at my feet. A Meadowlark sang, then zipped across the road until it disappeared into the willows.
Are we more attuned to spring this year? Do we notice more now that we have all slowed down? We are afraid, some of us, of what might come. Some of us are afraid of what has come. Spring, however, also comes. The yellow flowers bloom. The green leaves push up from bulbs.
I imagine the Phoebe, broadcasting from the roof of the falling barn, sings about such things. Perhaps, however, I give the Phoebe too much credit. I find beauty in the life that has been hidden, while the Phoebe simply finds insects and carries leaf stems to build its nest. It sings of that.
It is not wrong for me to be afraid. It is not wrong to admire life seeping back all around me. The Snipe, circling ghost-like over the meadow at dusk, reminds me that I can be both, reminds me that the turning of the world is worth my attention, whether I am afraid or not.
The heron stands
on the ice, waiting.
themselves in mud.
Beneath the heron:
That spear of a bill
is ready but at
the ice’s edge,
Used to stillness,
the heron keeps
one day hunger
drives it south,
its wings silent
in the fall air.
And there is the heron
perched on a snag
by the swollen river.
I do not know
how far it has traveled.
How can it move
so little? From where
does it draw its patience?
The heron forgets
the ice, forgets
its hunger. It only
for its next meal
that surely will arrive
any moment now.
Here we are at home. Like everyone else. Holed up. We stocked up before most people–on food and basic household supplies. I am working from home. My kids are doing school online. We have a great house. We live in a beautiful place. We all get along. Still, this is a bit of a drag.
We are trying to be safe. Every day, the news gets worse–more cases of COVID-19, more deaths, more misinformation from the White House. Vermont is locked down as much as is feasible. Yesterday at 5:00 pm a stay-at-home directive began for the state. People can still go out, for necessities and necessary work, but in general we are all staying put.
Just now the governor announced that schools, which closed last week, will stay closed for the rest of the school year. My son is in his first year of high school. The principal called with a supportive message, really impressive, telling students it is OK to feel all kinds of emotions, offering some of his own emotion for seniors especially. For teenagers, this is devastating. Three months before school ends they know there will be no prom, no spring track or baseball or ultimate, no graduation, no AP tests or SAT, no wood shop. And no time with friends face to face. My daughter attends a different high school; they have not closed yet. I am afraid that is just a matter of time.
The dogs still wake up too early. We go out and walk them. The sun rises. Two days ago we got ten inches of snow. Most of that has melted now. The woodcocks, after the snow came and went, starting calling again in the field tonight. Robins are singing their lilting songs. Goldfinches are turning yellow. This afternoon I heard the first wood frog of the spring.
We can’t eat out or get a drink from Starbucks or even go to most stores. Even the hardware store is bringing things outside to customers. Life is not what it was. But the total number of cases in Vermont doubled today to over 120. New York City had more 911 calls then they did on September 11, 2001. This thing is deadly. We are inconvenienced, but we are here.
The sun is higher now. The light shines through the bare woods. The world is bigger this time of year–more light, more sound, more beauty every day. That beauty is a counter to the challenges we face now, and the tragedy that is sure to come. As this virus affects all of us more and more, the world spins into spring. We need to pay attention to both.
The day has turned out to be a fine one. The temperature is up to 52 degrees. The sun shines, with only a light wind. Things are thawing so it smells like spring. Red-Winged Blackbirds are singing. Geese by the hundreds fly overhead. And are those daffodils teasing the sky?
Yesterday it was winter. The morning saw a dusting of snow and the air never rose above freezing. A cold wind blew. That light snow made the roads and the hills and the piles of snow look fresh and new. Today, however the grime has begun to show.
When snow melts it leaves behind what it held. Maybe those snowflakes formed around specks of dust way up in the atmosphere. And maybe some dirt from the drive was added with each shovelful that got tossed onto the edge of the lawn. And the snowplow dug up some gravel too. All those bits get left behind when the snow starts to melt. To be frank, this time of year things get ugly.
Soon all the snow will fully melt, and the grit collected in the piles will settle into grass and onto the road and eventually we won’t see it at all. But right now it is contrasted with the white ice crystals and, man, it looks a mess. Snow is just so beautiful when it falls and when it gathers, like yesterday morning. But now? Ugh. Don’t make snow cones with that.
Spring is almost here. I mean, you could say it is here but winter still has a say in the matter. There is a back and forth with the season right now, and there will be for some weeks yet. I still would welcome snow, but I also won’t mind when those dirty piles disappear. Steam rises from sugarhouses today–a sign of the shoulder season. It needs to be freezing at night and warm during the day. That we have. I’ll take the syrup, so I guess I will take the season that goes with it.
I have to go when I can go. So I went up to the town forest a couple mornings ago, when I had some time to do it. If I had total flexibility I might have gone the day before, when the sky was clear. But I have to work, and I have a family and, you know, life stuff. So I went when I had time.
May is the month to find migrating birds. And, currently, it is May. So up I went to see what is passing through, or what has arrived for the summer. There was some fog down low, but as I drove up the hill, the fog got thicker. Up at the small parking area it was a bit socked in. I could see, mind you, just not very far. Tree tops were obscured, so I had to listen more than look.
When I go birding I usually listen more than look anyway, so it was natural. I have to remind myself sometimes to look up, in fact. There is just so much sound that birds make–songs and calls and drumming and chips and peeps. On this day I heard plenty of birds–Winter Wrens and American Redstarts and Veeries and Mourning Warblers. The bird of the day was the Bay Breasted Warbler–one that passes through–peeking out from a spruce tree right next to the trail at head height. Cool looking little dude.
I wandered around in the fog for a while before I had to get off to work. It was a successful and satisfying morning. The fog behind the fresh greenery was a quiet portrait of spring. I was in awe. It was awesome. I sank into the landscape and, by observing closely, discovered some of the landscape’s details. Not a bad way to start the day.
That is what I tell myself at 5:00 in the morning when I wake up and it is still mostly dark and I am sleepy and warm in bed and could use a little more rest before getting up for the day to get cracking on the usual routine. It’s May. Just get out there.
I mean, it is beautiful on a May day when the sun rises and the fog settles over the river and the green of the new buds is almost yellow it is so bright. But May is also when the birds come back. Warblers and orioles and flycatchers and sparrows. And so many more. I get out and try to find them. Every morning I try to find a bird species I have not yet found this year. Lately the birds have just been nuts.
What I mean by nuts is there have beenso many birds singing in the morning. When I go out I stand in the driveway and listen. I hear ten species from the porch. By the time I get to the end of the driveway I have heard 15. By the turn in the road I’ve found 20. The past couple of times I have walked out early I have seen or heard 50 species. It is nuts.
Six years ago, when I started birding more seriously, my goal was to learn the songs of as many local birds as possible. I wanted to be able to hear a song or call and know what I was hearing. I know a lot of them. I look forward to hearing the first Savannah Sparrows or Eastern Meadowlarks or Bobolinks. My heart leaps up, as Wordsworth said, when I hear my first Yellow Warbler of the year. Or my first Rose-Breasted Grosbeak.
There are several birds that regularly show up here whose songs I don’t have nailed. That American Redstart? I should know it by now, but I have to re-remember it each year. Same with the Blackburnian Warbler. But it is a new challenge each spring. “Wait,” I whisper to myself. “What is that? I should know that.” And then smile when I get it.
These days I never have enough time. I have to rush back to the house for a shower and a clean shirt and some breakfast before we all head off to work and school. It would be easier if I had more time for that crap as well. But it is May. I need to get out there. In a couple of months, those birds won’t be singing, and the leaves will be hiding them. So I get up, I grab my binoculars and I try to remember to shut the door behind me as I start listening.
Of the four birdhouses sitting on posts at the edge of the field, only two were in good shape. One had a busted roof with a hornet nest under it. One had fallen off and had gotten buried in the snow. Another was loose but at least it still stood. It took care of some of that today.
These birdhouses have been around a while. The only thing I have had to do in the past was to clean them out each spring. They do get used. Two of them had old bluebird nests in them this time. They are made up largely of white pine needles. The other day, as in the past, I dumped the old nests in the field.
Unfortunately, one of them had a dead bluebird in it. It was odd. It was perfectly preserved. Maybe it had not been there long. Maybe it had gotten frozen. I found a spot for it under the white pines. That seemed fitting.
I removed the busted house from its post. That one is sitting on the porch. I am not sure I can easily repair it. I might just replace it. The fallen one I remounted and reattached. I tightened the loose one. The one on the end, closest to the fir tree and the forsythia, seems to get used the least. It had no nest last year and typically does not. It needed no help.
So three out of four next boxes are ready to go. Tree Swallows will be back soon. They often nest in one of them. Bluebirds sometimes get two hatches out of a box. One summer House Wrens used the far one. It will be good to get that fourth one back on track. I am not sure they have ever all been used at one time, but I like to give our avian companions options.
This is the start of cleaning things up outside after winter. I can see we need to rake leaves and clear out debris. Fallen branches need to be hauled away. Our driveway has some ruts that could use some smoothing. But at least the bluebirds and swallows can get started on their annual duty of raising chicks. Already Red-Winged Blackbirds and Song Sparrows are staking out territories with their songs. Once the ground thaws it will be time for us humans to get cracking as well.