It was a couple of weeks ago when I noticed the first change.  Snow, twice rain-saturated and twice re-frozen, still lay on the lower field.  All winter, small olive-gray birds with black wings would come to my feeder and eat.  But one Tuesday in March, one of these birds came to the feeder, and it looked blotchy. 
     It was a goldfinch, starting to molt.  Males shed their drab winter feathers as new bright feathers emerge.  Yellow flecks hint at the gold to come.  Molting is the great discombobulation that precedes the breathtaking elegance of a mature male in breeding plumage.  Right now, they look kind of goofy, but it is a sure sign of spring.  I know from past years that it seems like this transition happens in the blink of an eye.  I'm ready though; it's been a long winter.

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     All winter, my lanky fourteen year old boy would come home from cross-country ski practice and eat. A couple of weeks ago, when Andrew was just finished with ski season, he came home right after school and told me “I need some exercise.   I'm going out skiing.”  That old frozen snowpack still lay on our fields, but the temperature was near 40 degrees: the in-between season. 
     Andrew shed his winter school clothes, put on his athletic shorts and a jacket, snapped into his skis, and pushed off across the yard.  He flew down past the barn to the fields below.  Skate-skiing is like ice-skating; no track is needed.  It's just free-flowing push-glides that rocket you across a packed surface. It was a crazy, beautiful sight, this boy/man in shorts and skis, neither and both in this transition time.   I watched, our dog gleefully running along beside him, and as the afternoon sunlight mellowed the scene, I tried to memorize it.   I'm afraid to blink; I'm not ready for this molting to be complete.


The Finchy Time

     This is an in-between time.  It's neither winter nor spring.  "Unlocking" is what John Gardner calls it in October Light; here in Maine it's mud season.  The sun is warm, but it's cold out. Snow covers our fields, but the sap is running in the trees.  People start thinking about quitting their jobs because we've all been mired in too long, but our patience is sustained by hope coloring the pages of seed catalogs.
     I call it a finchy time of year. My bird feeders have been inundated with both house and goldfinches for three to four weeks now. Finches are not loners. Glance out the window one moment and you see a chickadee at the feeder. Get your coffee, glance back, and every perch is filled with a house finch. And they won't move until they're ready. I call them “the piggy finches” but that made Anna mad when she was little because it sounded like I was being mean to them. Which I was. But she was right; I shouldn't be calling them names.
     That's my mud season attitude towards the finches.
     My sunlight-and-sap-running attitude is an upwelling thankfulness for the burbling birdsong that comes from those house finches every morning outside my bedroom window. This is the beginning of the glorious days to come, the days of the dawn chorus that lasts through June. It's the incoming tide, the uphill part of a mountain hike, the crescendo of a symphony, the first pages of a good book, the smell of onions and garlic cooking when you walk into a friend's house for dinner. Anticipation has its own sweetness, and the finches are the first taste of spring.

That's Anna's drawing of a house finch.  Isn't she amazing?