Lovely, Dark, and Eternal

Bare tangled branches up against a cerulean blue. That’s all I see when I raise my binoculars and search for the Pileated Woodpecker I keep hearing. The woods, especially unfamiliar ones, can have tricky acoustics. Is the sound  bouncing off the small peak that I just summited? The noise was ahead of me, and now it is behind me. I sigh and squirm on the mossy rock where I am crouching.

The early spring woods are reinforcing the lesson I seem to keep learning in other facets of my life. Patience. Patience while my left foot takes its long, circuitous journey to complete healing. Patience while I wait for another book idea to fully blossom. The never-anticipated need to be patient while my mother continues the “long goodbye” that is so emblematic of dementia (that phrase was the title of Ronald Reagan’s daughter’s memoir about losing him to Alzheimer’s disease). Mom is in her bed with the remarkably life-like artificial tulips I brought her yesterday. I am out here in the woods, thinking of her.

The woods remind me to be still, to listen and remember that all is well, in the sense that the beauty of the world and its workings is a constant, that it can bring me comfort. I remember that time will, eventually, bring peace and healing. Thinking about mom, I am brought back to young childhood, when I sat on her blue flowered bedspread eating tangerines. She is reading me part of Pippa Passes by Robert Browning.

The year’s at the spring
And day’s at the morn
Morning’s at seven
The hillside’s dew-pearled
The lark’s on the wing
The snail’s on the thorn
God’s in his heaven–
All’s right with the world.

It’s a simple stanza and I can just about recall the whole thing. More than the words, I remember the cadence, which sounds to me like a conversational and optimistic list, the poet making a convincing case that spring is, indeed, here. I muse about how, more than once, I have called these words up to help me cope with losing mom.  She couldn’t have known when she gave me these words that I would use them in such a way!

Today I saw thorns, but there were no snails on them. I heard a far-off, high bird call, but probably not a lark. But after I settled into the forest, so much looked and sounded right, just as it was for Pippa. The woodpecker’s rhythm sounded almost thoughtful for a while. The birds, too, were not as excited as I’ve heard them on many mornings amid the tall conifers in my yard. The long spaces between their chirps and chortles helped me hold longer spaces between my thoughts. I start to look and listen and feel and smell instead of simply thinking, instead of planning ahead, instead of worrying, even instead of grieving. This is a welcome oasis, a place from which I can draw quietude and strength.

Trombidium

My new Trombidium friend

I am taken with a fallen tree whose once loamy root ball has now eroded into a spiky, dinosaur-armor-like projection. Termites have been busy here, breaking the aged wood into inch-long, roughly rectangular chunks. I am startled to see, crawling on the base of a nearby tree,  the most fluorescent orangey-red insect I’ve ever seen, about the size of my pinky nail and quite lively and leggy, zooming up, down, and sideways. I muse about how mom would love the color—she often wears bright colors like this. I try to capture his image, even shooting a crude movie with my phone. How I love not knowing the exact kind of bug this is. I wonder about his life, his day-to-day tasks. (When I look him up on iNaturalist later I am pretty sure he is a Trombidium, a genus of mite that is apparently quite common. Despite so much time spent in nature, I’ve never seen one before).

hornet nest

Hornet’s nest from last season

There is so much to take in as I follow Camille’s Way, a trail in the Highlawn Forest property adjacent to the Connecticut Forest & Park Association building. The prize of an old hornet’s nest overhanging the murky green pond. The long, refrigerated corridor of conifers that smells like incense and feels like a wise, old friend. The birdsong that becomes more elaborate when I close my eyes. When I am still I realize that the now-noisy Pileated Woodpecker is not the only bird in town. Others are chiming in, too, more subtly, more gently.

conifer grove

Conifer grove

When I start to see Route 66 off in the distance, and some houses and such., it makes me feel like I’m in a secret realm– still close enough to entertain thoughts of civilization, and removed enough to treasure my solitude.

When I rejoin my group at the nature writing retreat I am facilitating, we talk about the nuances in nature, and how sometimes it’s good to notice and record the less “pretty” aspects of nature—the dead tree; the random, unexplained bone on the trail. But today, maybe because of what I need most, it all looks quenching, uplifting, hopeful to me. I see beauty even in the termite-destroyed tree, and in the sometimes nearly black, wet leaf litter that appears to block out all life.

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New life

I know that life thrives below the dark surface, and that many small creatures have overwintered there. Pushing some of the sodden leaves aside I see green sprouts trying their best to emerge. I give them a head start by clearing a space but know that even without my help they will, with time, find a way. I know that all these flora and fauna, all of us, go back to the earth. Our lives give rise to more life, and I mean much more beyond birth and the whole “dust to dust” thing. I have learned so much from mom and will always carry her grace with me, hopefully passing some of it down to Gavin and distributing the wealth of it among all I encounter.

The woods are where I learn to be patient. The woods are how I come to believe in resurrection. As mom so often used to say (quoting Frost), they are “lovely, dark, and deep.” How glad I am to visit them again.

skyward.jpg

Skyward

Lonely as a Cloud: Ospreys, Mom, and Daffodils

Daffodils at Aaron Manor.JPG

Daffodils at Aaron Manor

I remember other April days like this past Sunday, when I was fooled into thinking we might sit in the sun comfortably, but the wind continued to feel like March and my hands wanted to stay in their pockets. I had decided to take Mom to Sweet Luna’s, our relatively recent tradition. The plan to eat our frozen yogurt outside was scrapped—maybe after Easter, Mom’s favorite holiday.

We used to share delectable meals out, but at this point in Mom’s old age and dementia, her condition is such that she can only eat specific textures and thicknesses of food. Frozen yogurt with tons of fudge and caramel and peanut butter make the list, as do carefully chosen tiny toppings like mini chocolate chips and crushed-up Andes candies. I think we create a small disturbance at Sweet Luna’s, as I have to yell so loud at Mom to be heard. But they are kind and it is a good outing.

Mommy

An excellent day in 2014, when we were still able to eat out

There are good days and bad days with Mom’s dementia, and I have never been able to figure out why sometimes more cylinders (or more accurately, neurons) seem to be firing. This recent outing wasn’t one of the best days—Mom picked at her skin (a common dementia habit) and mostly stayed in her own world. She had little interest in the nearby tent sale, when in the old days she would have shopped up a storm. She had no opinion when asked if she wanted to drive home the pretty way or the fast way.

I chose for us. Pretty. Very pretty, in fact—River Road in Essex. Back in the car, we were again fooled into thinking it might be May, or even June, and I opened the windows to let the breeze in. I hoped that Mom was taking in some of the vista—the river below, the light in the trees—and when I looked at her face I thought she might be absorbing some of it. It was hard to tell.

light in the trees.jpg

A photo from another April, of light in the trees

The first time my heart soared, it was because I saw my first Osprey of the season, far away on the platform at the Pettipaug Yacht Club, the club we joined last year even though all we have is a canoe. Great bird life there! A half mile or so later, I saw another Osprey on its own platform at Pratt Cove. I pointed these out to Mom but the experience seemed lost on her. The car was too fast and her vision and hearing were too dim to keep up. Still, she smiled, discerning from my gesticulations that something had pleased me, and happy that I was happy. (My dedication to her in The Book of Noticing says exactly that: “always happy when I am.”)

Osprey by Fritz Myer.jpg

Osprey courtesy of Fritz Myer on Flickr

 

 

But I felt lonely. We used to have the best conversations, and now she’s mostly deaf and often mute. Even when I yell, many of my attempts at conversation are lost on her. My mind wandered, thinking about loneliness and spring. I thought about the daffodils we’d seen, just beginning their lives in bloom. And then, I was inspired. I leaned over toward Mom and shouted, “I WANDERED LONELY AS A CLOUD.” She looked toward me, puzzled, having not heard my first attempt. Again I yelled the first line of Wordsworth’s “Daffodils” poem (which is actually titled with that first line that I was bellowing). Without missing a beat, Mom replied, “That floats on high o’er vales and hills.” We fumbled our way through the next couple of lines, back and forth, surely butchering Wordsworth’s perfect lyric but getting to the gist of line four, spoken (inaccurately but triumphantly) by Mom: “A host, of golden daffodils.” A simple but stellar moment. The neurons rose up in joy, for just a brief interval.

Mom majored in English literature, specializing in the British poets. All of these great works used to roll off her tongue. She’d been on the debate team and had great elocution. No longer, but I know that the words live somewhere inside of her.

I thought about how nature inspires me to write. But for Mom, who is not as tuned into to the natural world as I am (and who, on one of her recent good days, rolled her eyes when I waxed sympathetic for the polar bears’ climate change plight) , poetry is what introduced her to nature. The combination of Mom’s poetry and Dad’s fierce love of the outdoors shaped me profoundly. Mom taught me, through poetry (and with robust help from William Blake), to literally:

…see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour…

She alerted me to the hallelujah that is Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “dappled things,” and often recited Pippa Passes, by Robert Browning:

The year’s at the spring,
And day’s at the morn;
Morning’s at seven;
The hill-side’s dew-pearled;
The lark’s on the wing;
The snail’s on the thorn;
God’s in His heaven—
All’s right with the world!

We got back to the nursing home, and after I settled her into her cushy red chair we exchanged our habitual “vaya con Dios.” As I left Aaron Manor I snapped a photo of the daffodils planted outside.

All was right with the world.

 

Timberdoodle versus Human: Which Singles Scene is More Exhausting?

American Woodcock

American Woodcock image courtesy of Paco Lyptic on Flickr

I don’t miss my single days—trying to look just right, the awkwardness of some conversations, disappointing dates, and being pursued by men who just seemed overeager.

Of course, that was a long time ago. And I don’t know for certain if it’s still the case that the men often take the lead—asking for a phone number, or a date, or trying to plan a “perfect” night. For all I know, the women are in complete control now! But, back in the day, I felt for these guys, with such an onus of needing to impress the girl.

Well, I’m here to argue that the American Woodcock (aka Timberdoodle or Bog Sucker) has a much more difficult time of it. For proof, if you are local, get to the Stewart B. McKinney Wildlife Refuge in Westbrook this Sunday for a repeat of this  past Saturday’s American Woodcock event—a brief talk and then watching the male do his elaborate courtship display.

Scientists or other exacting readers, please forgive me if this summary is less than 100% precise. But the male’s courtship job basically involves:

  • Calling out for quite some time (can you say PEENT?) while rotating in a 360-degree circle on the ground
  • Shooting up into the sky for an erratic (or maybe to the female, it’s erotic) flight while making strange whistling sounds with your feathers
  • Zooming back down while making another sound, described by some as “whimpering chirps” (is this desperation setting in?)
  • Landing in about the same spot, often to do it all over again (and again) (and again).

All of this is based on the assumption that there must be a female woodcock camouflaged in the brush, just waiting to meet you!

Here’s a good account, complete with audio, from Miracle of Nature.

If you can get to the local event, it is so worth it. It’s led by Patricia Laudano, president of the local Potopaug Audubon Society. She’s been developing her very specialized expertise in this species for many years! (If you don’t hail from Connecticut, it might be worth researching if there’s something like this going on in your area.)

It is a truly a treat to learn about these amazing creatures, their upside-down brains, and the labor-intensive ritual that makes human dating look like a cake walk!  Plus, to me they are uniquely enchanting. Bonus: they are an ungainly, endearing, persistent, and often unnoticed sign of spring!

 

Feeder Census and Fruit-Full Robins

Time moves differently when you are holding binoculars. Or maybe it’s when you are taking a bird census. All I know is that my total of 4 hours watching my feeder (broken up into 4 one-hour sessions) went quickly and amounted to a heartening experience of curiosity and delight.

How welcome and rare, in this day and age, to sit still and be entertained by something that doesn’t plug in or need charging! You can learn a lot by simply watching the birds in the yard, and be completely entertained, too. Some take turns, others take over. Some favor picking through the seeds that fall, others relish the suet cake or commit to a particular feeder hole. There are those who “dine in,” chowing down right on the perch, and those who “take out,” carting their seeds to an undisclosed location. Dimming sunlight looks especially lovely when reflected off of a mourning dove perched nearby.

I started to notice things like beak shape and gorgeous tail feather design and who likes to fly to what branch. Also, that you have to pay close attention to tell sparrows apart! The term “little brown job”  was invented for a reason!

Later on I flipped through the Sibley field guide Tom bought me, poring over details to make sure my identifications were on track. The whole exercise was a great reminder of how much there is to notice, how much there is going in nature that can just (literally) go right over our heads. Here’s a snapshot of my count from one of the sessions:

feederWatchSnip030616

This was the second year I committed to report my feeder eaters to Project FeederWatch, and I still have time to do a few more counts before the April 8 cutoff. I am hoping the next count will boast some robins. I swear I saw one fly by me on Route 154, but I’ve seen nary a one in the yard.

In fact, I felt a bit dumb when I had to admit that I had no idea where robins go during the winter. I mean, the consensus seems to be that they are a major sign of spring, but I was pretty sure that they didn’t fly south with the geese. Well, apparently I am not the only one who didn’t realize that robins often remain nearby when it gets cold, simply changing their habits. According to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology , in the fall and winter robins roost in trees and eat fruit, so we are much less like likely to see them. I would however notice if I saw a QUARTER MILLION birds in a roost! Apparently this kind of robinpalooza is a documented occurrence. Here’s some audio of a mere 1000 robins or so chattering in Arizona.

I don’t look at scrappy, scraggly trees tangled in the brush the same way anymore. I look for shriveled apples that have hung on, wondering if they will sustain a robin until he finds the ground soft enough for worms again.

Why I Walk Early, and (Blog) Hopping into Spring

fallenRobin's eggI love my walks, so often crammed in before work hours or weekend errands. I love it when creatures become more prolific with the warmer temperatures and start to cross my path again in greater numbers. So many are busy making new families now. Soon flowers will be easier to find just by following my nose, and moths of every size and shape will crowd the front porch, greeting me when I first step out in the morning.

Mary Oliver wrote a stunning poem called Why I Wake Early, and that ran through my mind the other day before work, as I watched a rabbit’s white tail hop away into the brush, looked for fallen eggshells, and snapped photos of mourning doves and a red-winged blackbird in the branches. Why I walk early also merits an ode. Although I could wax wordily on about it, I’m keeping my explanation here mostly in the form of pictures for a change.

After the pictures comes my participation in a blog hop interview–my nomination was bestowed by my writing group friend Laurie Baxter, and it gives me a chance to say a little bit about my burgeoning book and my writing life. Laurie is a prolific writer, and I’ve enjoyed every play and story that she’s shared with me, as well as her boundless enthusiasm for words and life, generally. Most recently I indulged in her Kindle Veronica Mars novella–a fun and engaging read that brought me back to my guilty pleasure watching the series on Netflix. I’d love to be as spunky and clever as Veronica, or as Laurie, for that matter! I think this blog hop is mostly for fiction writers, so am honored that my mostly nature writing self has been welcomed in. (You know how that goes, though–now I am letting other nature-centric writers into the party!) Interview after the pictures, along with nominations for the next blog hoppers!

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Early spring visitors.

Pratt Cove. I spotted a vulture on a nest. The birders lining the railroad tracks told me that's what it was!

Pratt Cove. I spotted a large bird on a far-off nest, flapping its wings. The birders lining the railroad tracks told me it was a vulture!

Can you spot the red-winged blackbird. iPhone shot requires use of squinting and imagination

Can you spot the red-winged blackbird? iPhone shot requires use of squinting and imagination

Mourning dove couple, next door neighbors to the blackbird.

Mourning dove couple, next door neighbors to the blackbird. I have plans to buy a camera with a decent zoom lens, but nonetheless treasure these silhouettes against the bright blue sky.

Can't swear that these are bona fide fiddleheads--they seemed awfully big to me.

Can’t swear that these are bona fide fiddleheads, as in good eating–they seem awfully big to me.

What is your working title of your book (or story)?

Cabinet of Curiosity: Talismans from New England Rambles. I’ve also written and self-published Harriet’s Voice: A Writing Mother’s Journey and Things My Mother Told Me (more below about the self-publishing experience). I have participated in an anthology called Get Satisfied: How Twenty People Like You Found the Satisfaction of EnoughThis link leads to a lot of my published articles, essays, and poems. There are a bunch of links here on the blog, too.

Where did the idea come from for these books?

The germ of the Cabinet idea came when my son Gavin was still quite young, and I was (as I still am now) working as a medical writer and writing creatively on the side. I carried an acorn home with the idea that I’d bring something home from each walk and use it as a writing prompt. Many years later, Gavin and I started a shoebox full of specimens we’d gathered during time in nature, a real-life Cabinet of Curiosity. It’s a tangible representation of the experiences and revelations I work to convey in the book.

These days, I am at least 80% focused on nature writing, and the essence of the Cabinet book and my piece in the anthology springs from the powerful experience of connection I have when spending time in nature. But my other works, come to think of it, have been about powerful connections, too. I seem to be always connecting dots in my writing (or trying to).

What genre do your books fall under?

The Cabinet book is definitely nature writing, with some essence of memoir blended in. Harriet’s Voice  is part memoir, part self-help for writing mothers. Get Satisfied = nature-oriented/reflective essay. BTW I think the essay form is totally underrated!

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

My dog Molly is key in the Cabinet book and can be quite girly but also gritty and down to earth–Meryl Streep?? My son gets a lot of mentions, too–can’t recall any 13-year-old actors who could do Gavin justice.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

OK–excellent marketing practice for me. Have to do it in third person, imagining I am a gushing but sincere blurb writer featured on the back of the book (PS also breaking the rules and writing 2 sentences. I am more Wolfe than Hemingway): Each walk-inspired essay from Katherine Hauswirth hands you a significant talisman from nature that you can turn over thoughtfully in your palm. Her meditative reveries reflect on the deep connections between what we experience outdoors and our day-to-day existence as humans.   

Will your book(s) be self-published or represented by an agency?

Agency, for sure. Know any good agents??

My first self-published book, Things My Mother Told Me , was almost forced upon me–I won an essay contest and the prize was a self-publishing contract. I see it primarily as a family keepsake, although it was a fortuitous exercise that taught me I actually CAN write a book. Harriet’s Voice is a love letter to Harriet Beecher Stowe and a letter of encouragement to writing mothers. I sometimes wonder if I should have held out for traditional publishing but after some positive feedback and false starts with publishers/agents was antsy to get the book out of my system. Self-publishing Harriet allowed me to move on to Cabinet! But I respect the traditional publishing world and the quality that it (often) demands. I want to join that club!

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Cabinet is still in progress. It’s been nearly 2 years and  I have, thankfully, picked up speed. I recently won the honor of Edwin Way Teale Artist in Residence, and I await details on which summer week  I will get to live where the incomparable Teale did, and write without interruption in such an inspiring setting. I expect to be wildly prolific during this heavenly interlude!

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

That question is always a tall order. Dare I say it might be in the vein of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, if Pilgrim were written in fits and starts by a busy, distracted, sandwich-generation, insomniac, working mom who was nearly obsessively jealous of Annie Dillard’s time by herself at the creek?

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My shelves are crammed with nature books, and I’d be hard pressed to pick one or two volumes that spoke to me most. I consider each one a precious gift–so many meaningful voices have come before me. What inspires me most, actually, are the many walks I take. When they are long enough, and when I am in a deeply listening frame of mind, ideas roll in like welcome waves.

Thanks again to Laurie Baxter for this excuse to expound! For the next leaps and bounds in the blog hop, I nominate Shawndra Miller, and Jean and Gabe of PocketMouse Publishing. I reserve the right to later invite more hopping good writers.

BUMPER CROP of Tree Circles

Molly.ROTATE

Fully aware that Molly is sideways (blog options not cooperating), but even from this angle you can see she’s got a taste for burgeoning spring

 

What joy—enough snow melted so that Molly and I could foot the mile to town without fearing the need to dive into tall snowdrifts should 2 cars come down the narrow street simultaneously! Yes, there they were—a bumper crop of tree circles where before there was only a scant sprouting.

TreeCirclesBridgeSt

As I walked I found myself feeling sorry for those in eternally temperate climes, because they can’t experience the happy release that comes with the long-awaited start of spring thaw. It’s a tenuous joy that comes, because there may be more snow, but maybe that makes the first moderately warm moments even sweeter.

I thought of the Dar Williams song Sometimes Southern California Wants to Be Western New York, and also of my favorite Robert Frost Poem, My November Guest (excerpts from each below):

There’s a part of the country
Could drop off tomorrow in an earthquake
Yeah, it’s out there on the cutting edge
The people move, the sidewalks shake

And there’s another part of the country
With a land that gently creaks and thuds
Where the heavy snows make faucets leak
In bathrooms with free-standing tubs…

…And it wants to have a snow day
That will turn its parents into kids

And it’s embarrassed, but it’s lusting
After a SUNY student with mousy brown hair who is
Taking out the compost
Making coffee in long underwear

 

My Sorrow, when she’s here with me,
Thinks these dark days of autumn rain
Are beautiful as days can be;
She loves the bare, the withered tree;
She walks the sodden pasture lane.

Her pleasure will not let me stay.
She talks and I am fain to list:
She’s glad the birds are gone away,
She’s glad her simple worsted gray
Is silver now with clinging mist…

Both of these bards remind me of that part of me that loves and welcomes the coldness and barrenness of winter. It is a time for hunkering down and thinking about things and venturing into inner space, and there certainly is a quiet beauty to the bare tree branches and making coffee in long underwear. That being said, it gets OLD for most of us–to the point of familiarity breeds contempt!. And as hardy as I tried to make myself this winter, my natural instinct was to stay off the ice and keep the chill away by donning layers of baggy sweaters and eating warm things.

How lovely to see the world waking up as I am, again alert to what’s going on beyond the confines of my snowed-in street. Long live tree circles, their widening embrace, and eventual disappearance as all the melt goes underground to feed their budding source.

Longing for Tree Circles

We’re sharing a good book in the family. Backyard Almanac  gives an entry on “Northern natural history” for every day of the year. Technically I think the “Northern” to which the author refers is more in the vicinity of upper Minnesota and Southern Canada, but close enough—most of the milestones and species are something to which we here in Deep River can relate.

The entry for March 1 was about tree circles, one of many natural phenomena of which I have probably on some level been aware but hadn’t thought about too much before. Larry Weber writes:

The sunlight reflects off snow, but not off dark tree bark, which absorbs heat from the lengthening light and gently radiates it back to the surrounding snow creating ‘tree circles.’ Snow melt may extend out from the trees…to as much as a foot. On tree trunks, plants like mosses get a peek at sunlight for the first time in months, and animals so long beneath the snow have an opportunity to emerge into fresh air and daylight.

I got excited about impending spring plant life resurrections when I Googled around a bit more about tree circles. A Q &A in an archived New York Times Science section reminds me that “Some emerging herbaceous plants, like those growing from bulbs, produce heat to melt snow in order to more easily break through it in the springtime…This is most famously true of skunk cabbage, Symplocarpus foetidus, likely our earliest-blooming herbaceous native…Some flowering trees also produce heat, likely to melt frost or snow present on their buds.”

I was tickled by the tree circles topic because it’s unique and a little offbeat and warm, but as Ecclesiastes reminds us, there is nothing new under the sun. Here’s a great blog on the same topic, but I can’t be too jealous of these authors getting there first, because they are a pretty fascinating bunch who seem ultrasmart and science-y in ways that I will never be (but deeply admire).

Unlike these scientists, I will not be intensely studying or positing theories of evolution or alternatives to it. But I do have something in common with them.  I will be PAYING ATTENTION, especially to those tree circles. (I checked today—there are not yet ripples of shallower, soil-tinged  snow popping up around my pines and oaks. But temperatures are gradually trending in an encouraging direction).

About attention, Mary Oliver said it best:

Attention is the beginning of devotion.

Olivia Newton-John also said (well, sang) something well, about being utterly and Hopelessly Devoted. That’s how I feel about spring at this point. Hopelessly devoted to the promise of tree circles and the spring that will expand around us as they move outward into the sun.

Cold, Refreshing Spring (and a Free Books Footnote)

GavinColdSpring_010115It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly a whole month since we awoke to 2015, and that first chilly day of the year had us at our traditional New Year’s place: Cold Spring, New York, a village on the Hudson (most photos here courtesy of my husband Tom, except where noted).

Although I continue to work on becoming a hardier example of our species, this wasn’t a prime day for long strolls in the out of doors. The wind whipped off the river; the temperatures were in the teens, maybe even single digits with the wind chill. But even so, we were bundled up and enjoyed a brisk 25 minutes or so on the coast, where we picked through driftwood on the beach, watched long cargo trains pull by on the opposite shore, and marveled at the abundance of spiky, otherworldly-looking water chestnut seed pods, sometimes called devil’s heads, that had washed up onto the beach. (I learned from The Incidental Steward by Akiko Busch that water chestnuts, introduced in the late 1800s as exotic ornamentals, have become quite the invasive species, choking our rivers and spreading at alarming rates).

Water Chestnut Seed Pod From peppergrasss on Flickr

Water Chestnut Seed Pod
From peppergrasss on Flickr

After a warm and happy lunch at Le Bouchon we took a meandering drive along the river, happening upon a herd of deer grazing in an overgrown meadow.

DeerColdSpring010115

The day was refreshing and lively but indubitably COLD. We didn’t leave the car when we capped the day with our traditional drive through Hubbard Park on the way home, to see the Christmas lights display.

I’m not sure whether two sightings since that cold first day of 2015–and before the recent mega snowfall–should be taken as signs of the havoc that climate change is predicted to bring, but, regardless, they have made me more hopeful about spring coming. In the Wal-Mart parking lot, Tom and I were treated to the spectacle of two sparrows mating alongside the curb—cute, fascinating, and shocking all at the same time. I looked up house sparrows (although I can’t swear this was the variety we saw—didn’t want to create any sparrow scandals by snapping an incriminating photo), and sure enough, they sometimes begin mating as early as January. And then, on a drive along beautiful River Road from Essex to Deep River, I saw an osprey on an aerie. According to the CT DEEP page, they aren’t supposed to return from Southern hunting grounds until March. Then again, you get some early birds in every crowd. I may have to nudge the Essex OspreyCam operators so they can activate the live feed again.

It’s been good for me to learn this winter that life does go on outside even when my instinct tells me to stay where it’s warm and dig in deeper beneath the blankets. Did you know that when birds go South, it’s more about finding food than getting away from the cold? I want to keep them close–I trudged through nearly 2 feet of snow yesterday to get to the bird feeder and was rewarded by an audience (from afar) with several female cardinals. I wonder if they would have liked these berries that managed to display themselves so artfully in Cold Spring:

ColdSpringBLUEBerries_010115

(PS: For those who perked up at “free books” in the title, I am giving away some copies, while they last, of Get Satisfied: How Twenty People Like You Found the Satisfaction of Enough, in which I have a piece published; as well as Harriet’s Voice: A Writing Mother’s Journey. I’m afraid I can’t pay postage but happy to get copies to locals or work out some kind of prepaid mailing arrangement for those afar).