Thursday, March 19, 2015

Last Day of Winter

With record snowfall in Boston and two feet of snow (to say nothing of the snowbanks) still in our front yard, it seems like we’re still in early February. But we’re not. It’s the last day of winter, and it's cold, only fitting to mark the end of a long and difficult one.

The phone rings. It’s my friend on the Cape.

“The red-winged blackbirds are back!” Lately she has been feeding a lonely robin frozen raspberries each day (thawing them first).  She recently spotted a Yellow Rumped Warbler in her yard, and later in the day she forwards me several photos of two young ravens who were begging food scraps outside a Cape restaurant.

After a winter of epic storms, record snows and polar vortex incursions, I am ecstatic to hear more tangible news of spring. The return of the red-winged blackbirds is a reassurance to me that spring may actually arrive after all.

From about the first of January, I mark the passing of winter, celebrating each small victory, like the sky is light at 5pm, sunset after 5pm, double digits of January and then February. I take a deep breath at mid-winter and start counting the days until it’s officially over.

For me, the birds are the ultimate harbinger of the changing seasons. I’m a musician, so I guess sound is my most attuned sense. So I listen. At first the birds are dead silent in January, but by mid-February, the cardinals, the song sparrows and even the finches are singing up a storm, celebrating the expanding daylight.

This winter of winters, the other usual markers have been hidden under feet and feet of snow. No crocus tips around Valentine’s Day, no snowdrops, no perking up of the Lenten Rose, nothing.
So it’s been all about the birds.

I keep a diary, kind of a journal each winter, tracking the snows and the temperatures and also, the signs of spring. Started in the winter of 2004-5, I now have ten years of data on these things. And so when my friend called with the news of the red-winged blackbirds, I looked back through the years and found my entry from 2009.

“3/18/2009 – 60 degrees (!)  Windy. Heard some red-winged blackbirds in the wetlands off Cushing Street, walking with Gwen. Lots of crocuses, started yesterday.”

Then the entry just below it…

“3/26/09 – Red-winged blackbirds – and a full robin’s song!”

So perhaps we’re not so far off track overall, the depth of snow notwithstanding.

But will the birds on the Cape come north when there is such snow cover? Perhaps they’ll wait for the warm temperatures to come north with a warm front, kicking the Polar Vortex north into Canada.
At least, I know they are on their way. It won’t be long now.

But then there is the entry from 2013 – the end of March.

“Many snowfalls later, it’s almost all melted now. Crocuses are up, daffs coming. Robins have been singing for about a week. It’s a slow-arriving coolish spring so far. Ponds and lakes high. On the first day of spring, we were getting more snow!”

It’s almost over, whether it’s one day or two weeks. We have endured, and like the lonely robin in my friend's yard, we just need to hang on a little while longer. For very soon, we’ll be rewarded with springtime glory.