Letter from Birdland: Promise of spring on cold winter day
The wind drives snowflakes almost horizontally across the yard, until they hit a tree, and then dance in circling eddies.
In Birdland, it is bitter cold again.
Was it yesterday that the fog softened our world? The earth squishing under my feet as I carried a scoop of feed out to the chickens? January disguised as late April.
Today the ground was crunchy, the wind driving the ice crystals into my face. I left the door to the coop closed today. The chickens spent the day venturing into their little yard and then back to the warmth of the light bulb in the coop.
The temperature has been wild the last few weeks but for several days has dipped down into bitterest cold.
Yesterday I misjudged the chill of the wind and went out to feed the chickens without gloves or hat or scarf.
Well, a galvanized scoop of food can chill up pretty quickly when the wind comes driving down out of the west, and crystals of ice, while charming when they're sleeting against the window when you're warm inside, can sting when hitting you in the face.
Before I could wrestle the lid of the door open and fasten the thumbscrews down to hold the lid in place I noticed my hands were moving in slow motion despite my hurry to get out of the cold. My blood felt frozen inside my veins and was now a slow jell, inhibiting my work.
I rushed through my work, as best I could, gathering eggs into my pockets, replenishing water, pouring food.
I had sprinkled a few pellets first in the chickens' little yard to lure them out briefly so that I could work inside the coop without letting them out.
If I open the door of the yard, they will come out, no matter about the weather, and not come in until chicken dark, no matter how the cold wind blows. Instead of seeking shelter in the coop, they will huddle under the bare forsythia bushes and ornamental quince, though the leafless branches can't be blocking much wind.
But if I leave the door to the yard closed, they will spend most of the day warming themselves in the coop by the light of the bulb we keep burning as a heat source. On days like these, when the wind chill factors into the weather report, they are much safer in the coop.
A few days later, Groundhog Day dawned gently with a full cover of woolly, gray clouds, so in Birdland we have only six weeks till spring. Feb. 2 is one of my favorite cross quarter days and always reminds me that come sooner or come later, the world is always turning and spring is on its way.
Beneath that gentle cover of clouds we also found a soft blanket of snow, and I realized how much I've missed it. We didn't get much — only enough to cover — but even that gentles the yard. Walking down to the mailbox yesterday I saw the tiny crosshatch of bird tracks, and I welcomed the snow all over again. I thought about how the snow gives us an ephemeral glimpse into another dimension.
Suddenly we can see where a bird or a rabbit or a deer has stepped in the yard even though it was hours ago.
Yes, sometimes mud gives us the same temporary record for the larger animals, but snow is more delicate and soft snow is sensitive even to the weight of a sparrow or a mouse, and a meandering trip is recorded for a small piece of history that disappears with the wind or the rising temperature, or even with more snowfall.
Our snow won't last long in this sun. The forecast tells us we will be above freezing for the next three days and the snow will slip away — some melting into the grass and some sublimating into the sky. The tiny tracks of birds and the mighty galloping of my dog will be hidden until the next snowfall.
Snow in beauty; melt in peace; blessed be.
Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. She is interested in all the cycles of the seasons and her own backyard. You can read more about Birdland at http://www.letterfrombirdland.blogspot.com. Hays can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.