Flirting with Phenology

     Here we are at last: birds are moving in steadily; the poplar trees have dropped their pollen-filled catkins to dangle in the breeze; wood frogs and spring peepers are making wetlands vibrate with their calls.

It's almost like any way you turn, there's a new sign of spring. Today I saw two crows carrying twigs -- nest building is under way. I don't want it to pass me by, I want to be right in the middle of it, as fully aware as I can be.
     It's like being in a banquet, but instead of feeling overwhelmed by all the intermingled smells and sights, you say “oh! smoked salmon! roasted asparagus! wild mushroom pâté! blueberry confit! crème brulee!” To be able to identify and delight in each discovery draws it out of the background to a moment of full frontal appreciation. Time slows, and I am delighted over and over.
     I have been flirting with phenology for a long time without realizing it, and now I think I'm in love. Phenology is the study of key seasonal changes in plants and animals, particularly with respect to weather and climate. When does a phoebe return to nest? When does the maple bud break open at the insistence of the tiny leaf bundles within? When are the first egg masses visible in a vernal pool? It's more than the “what”, it's WHEN.
      Somehow, phenology encompasses both predictability and mystery. We know around when the phoebe will return, but not exactly. This little space between expectation and fulfillment is the gold nugget: the pulsing aliveness, the individuality of one being's journey, a condensed and delicious anticipation, rewarded with joy.
     I've been reading about this year's hummingbird migration. The male ruby-throats are due here any day, and I've already set out a feeder so that I don't miss the first arrivals. They will be hungry here, as there are no nectar sources available yet. They do eat insects, and may even sip sap from woodpecker holes for the sucrose. But our nice bright red feeder is like a neon sign flashing “Free Food” to these weary tiny travelers. It is my gift, my offering of interaction in exchange for its “yes”. I can't wait to see the iridescent green, the tilt of his body as he sips sugar water from the feeder under the crabapple tree.
     As I lay not quite awake every morning and hear the birds, sometimes my sleepy mind can pick out the song sparrow, the cardinal, the tufted titmouse songs. Sometimes it just all washes over me.
     As I make my morning tea, I look out the kitchen window and see the brown lawn has greened a little more since yesterday, like a flush of chlorophyll is flowing slowly across it. I know that soon yellow will rise into the forsythia.
     But when, when will I find the first robin's egg shell on the ground?
     When will I see the first hummingbird? I don't know. And I love not knowing. But I also love knowing that it is coming, soon. Sometime soon. I am waiting, listening, watching, fully aware as I can be. In love.



The Phoebe is back!

     I heard an Eastern Phoebe this morning outside my bedroom window! This is my bird, the one that brings me the most joy. 
     The return of the Phoebe signals the real start of spring for me; the Song sparrows, Fox sparrows and Turkey vultures, as happy as I have been to see them, are just the warm-ups. What is it about this drab, raspy-voiced bird that has captured me? Maybe it's because of the Phoebe's persistent song, maybe it's because they return to nest in the same place from year to year, maybe it's because years ago it was the first spring migrant I really became aware of -- I don't know why. But today feels like my birthday.
     To hear the Phoebe's song, visit my post "Coming Home" from April 2013. Then go outside and listen. What signals the real start of spring for you?
Eastern phoebe - Anna