The Birthday Calendar

       I have one of those birthday calendars hanging in my kitchen, the kind where you write in a person's name and the year they were born next to a date. For some reason, mine is in Dutch. But it's not the months that are cryptic to someone who is looking at it: it's the names written in next to a date. This month – Februari – has RWBB '02 written next to the 26th, and then again on the 28th like this: RWBB '00, '12.
       For me, this calendar is a different kind of birthday tracker, one that nearly wriggles with aliveness. On it, I keep track of the signs of the changing seasons, like the arrival of the first Red-winged black-birds (RWBB). It is a record of celebrations.
       Already January gave us the hooting of Great-horned, Barred, Screech and Sawhet owls. (Great-horned owls begin to court and nest at this time, so I choose to count this as a sign of spring.) On February 2, the sun rose and shined its pink light through the east window of our kitchen onto the stove. This is big, because our barn blocks the sunrise during the darkest months. But when the tilt of the earth bringing us back toward the sun has reached a certain point on February 2, we are graced by our own morning solstice – the return of the sunlight to the kitchen.
       Any day now I could see the first real returning migrant – a turkey vulture tipping back and forth in its soaring V-shape above the highway. Through the grace of this little calendar I have come to regard turkey vultures with delight, because they represent the scouts, the head of the pack, the front end of the throng of returning birds that will peak in April and May and jam my calendar dates with notes like WTS '02, YRW '07, BTG '10. It's not just birds, though. I note the first crocuses, the first tick on the dogs, ice off the pond, a spring snow storm (April 5: 10-½” snow '07), and even the first Junebug – in May.
       But what does this mean? It's not cold hard science, though it is a form of not-so-rigorous data collecting. These are like birthdays to me. I am thrilled at the first glimpse or song of a returning friend. By writing it down I am naming that bird or that flower or that moment, and this puts me in relationship with it. At least it does from my perspective; I doubt the first Phoebe has noticed me sleeping in my bed when it settles on my laundry line after a night of hard flying and proclaims “Feebee!” in its raspy early dawn voice. But my eyes open, and I nudge Bob sleeping next to me and whisper “did you hear that?”, and he grunts “phoebe”, his hand snuffling for mine under the quilt and we fall back asleep for just a few more minutes before the alarm awakens us to the world of schedules.
       I hope – I know – I care – that each of those birds will return, and that the spring peepers will sing, and yes – when the time comes – that the last monarch butterfly will be gone before the first snow falls. I care because it pulls me out of my structured and structural world and into the deeper heartbeat of the natural world. I feel real joy at these “birthdays”. I anticipate them eagerly. Walking the dogs down the dirt road on a morning in May with birds singing all around, and knowing the name of the one saying “witchety-witchety” in the alders, fills a little bit of the longing in me to leave the carpools behind and to instead wander off the road into the damp greening spring woods with my friends there.
       But I am getting ahead of myself. It is still February; I still have carpools to drive; and there is real beauty in what I have today. Here. February 17. It is a good day.