It's official. I, as well as most everyone else in the temperate parts of the northern hemisphere, am trying to get a bead on spring. Pitchers and catchers have already flown to fields of green. Maybe it's the bluebirds and robins outside, and warm foggy days like today when the river swells and the foundation wall seeps. Or it could be that we have not been able to sustain enough clear cold days for pond skating that were not washed out soon after. At least this year, for the first time in three, the maple tree has remained dormant through a January thaw. I think of the sap buckets and the time, coming soon, when I will find another hand-span of trunk between the faded scars to place their spiles. I wonder if the river herring will return in hopeful numbers to Buzzards Bay, where their season has been closed for three years running. I think of spring peepers, and red wings, and the osprey following the fish up the coast.
And it is still February, the traditional month of deep snows and deeper freezes here in the Litchfield Hills, the Berkshires and the high Taconics. When I was a boy - and this April I will be 40 so I get to say that - the last of the snow melted the week before my birthday. It is anyone's guess this year, or next, what the weather may bring. That is part of the package for us New Englanders. But if I am having difficulty attuning to the signs of the shifting season, what must it be like for those that truly depend on this ability? What range of variation do they sustain? For all its astonishing resilience, life on an ecotone is made of great swings and plunges. The edge frays between transitional and central hardwoods. The red-bellied woodpecker takes up permanent residence, and the cross bill retreats and is seldom seen.
Somewhere in the pine woods, great horned owls are calling their mates. Soon, very soon now.