Spring is here, I just have to be willing to look in odd places, willing to see the promise of unlikely signs. Click on the image to open in a full-size carousel, from which you can browse each photograph. Enjoy!
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Camera and binoculars bounce on my vest-padded chest as I leave footprints in week old snow. I am headed to the river, to watch the ice floes flow. Here at the bend, where West Pittston says hey to Pittston, the Susqhehanna is open, ice clinging in nooks and crannies. A dozen Buffleheads ride the current toward Wilkes-Barre. Common Merganser and Mallard pairs gather to preen or forage where the river meets beach. A lone Bufflehead floats mid-river, his glossy black-green head turning slowly right and left. Suddenly he tips tail to sky, and plunges beneath the icy water, with barely a ripple. I take slow, deep breaths, and smell what these birds know.
Spring is coming.
We have more mud than snow, more current than ice. Insects are hatching, snails are moving, mussles are available, fish swim closer to the surface. Life is on the move.
The ice is floe-ing on.
I swear I left the door open for just a couple of hours, as I tended the garden and the dogs. Swoosh! at my head came a LBB, the bane of a birder’s existence while in the field. Little Brown Bird is the go-to scientific identification for all sorts of sparrows and wrens that so closely resemble each other that only intense field scrutiny can resolve the question – what did I just see. So on that afternoon, the swiftness of flight and my startled response to a bird flying back to front out of my garage left me with but one conclusion: I had an LBB trying to nest in my garage. IN my garage.
I do not want the interior of my house or even my garage becoming a site of passerine development and I immediately searched the space in front of my headlights. Yep. There it was. Tucked high above my reach on a decrepit sheet of burlap, woven bits of leaf litter, moss, twigs created a shallow cup in the shelf corner. Clue number one that Little Brown Bird was a wren.
Clue number two was heard as I tended flower beds and dogs, garage door CLOSED, the next day: teakettle-teakettle-teakettle. The chunky little brown bird darted into a nearby pine shrub, and perched with its tail held high. Clue number three.
Now I was certain that a Carolina Wren sought my garage shelf for development. I kept the garage door closed, for the next day or two,surely long enough, I thought, to encourage this picky wren to seek other marvelous real estate in my wooded property.
Yesterday, I once again kept the garage open, as I tended the garden and the dogs. Life was easy. For everyone. Including my Little Brown Bird.
Suffice it to say, I removed the nest before this development had gotten too far.
May I suggest, LBB, my hanging fern?
Ira Sayles was born in Burrillville, Rhode Island on March 30, 1817. He learned his letters by the age of three and as a child on the family’s Tioga County, Pennsylvania farm Ira spent every available moment reading. After apprenticing with a Genesse Valley, New York cloth dresser for several years, Ira had saved enough money to continue his formal education at what became Alfred Academy, Alfred, New York. This voracious reader became a determined teacher and life-long learner, as well as an impassioned writer — of essays, articles, observations, and poetry. There was no remedy for this urge to write; it was “constitutional, and eradication is death! You know, sir, ‘Poeta nascitur, – no fit.’” [Poets are born, not made.]*
Ira included poems in letters to friends and siblings; submitted a poem to be published with his daughter’s obituary; and while visiting his old stomping ground, had various selections published in the Alfred University paper. Throughout his long career as principal, teacher, geologist, and paleontologist, Ira kept up his art. On March 30, 1891, Ira wrote My Seventy-Fourth Birthday, which he self-published in Washington, D.C. in between his work sessions with the United States Geological Survey. The first stanza reads:
In the changeful days of Spring,
When the birds begin to sing,
When the sunshine and the storm
Chase each other, cold and warm,
When the lambs are shivering,
When the calves are quivering,
And anon the sunny ray
Brings a pleasure to the day,
From rosy morn to evening gray. —
At such a changeful time as this
My gentle mother’s loving kiss
Welcomed then her baby boy
To this varying Life’s alloy.
*Ira Sayles, Letter to H. W. Longfellow, (1880); Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge.