Monday, March 31, 2014

Puddles of Daffodils

Puddles of Daffodils

It’s sunny today, a welcome change after a weekend of pouring rain. The ground remembers, however. It is wet, wet, wet. Mud puddles are everywhere. The grass is sopping, the bushes soaked. Between the recently melted snow and the consistent rain, the earth doesn’t seem able to absorb any more.

Although it is inconvenient, there is reason for this madness. April showers will bring May flowers - even if so much of the rain came in March. The water loosens the soil, making it easier for roots to dig in and gives plants nutrition for a good start. The daffodils seem to agree. They are already pushing up through the puddles, reaching for the sun. They are happy to greet another Spring; the crocuses have bloomed already.

So while we squish around on the saturated ground, putting corn gluten on the lawn to control weeds, cleaning the vegetable patch from last summer’s stalks, and digging new plots for anticipated plantings, it’s good to remember that each season has its own character. And why not? Nothing is static in our world, not even us. Some of us like the snow while others bask in the heat of summer. We don’t all plant the same flowers, if we plant at all, or the same veggies. We all like different foods, read a variety of books, have a diversity of jobs. Nature expresses itself in its own way, and so do we. If the weather isn’t our favorite, all we need is a little patience  - Nature will get around to a new season. Soon there will be puddles of daffodils.

The source, science, and philosophy of the rhyme:

Monday, March 24, 2014

A Peaceful Blue Jay

A Peaceful Blue Jay

It was early morning. The feeders, while usually covered with hungry birds, were empty except for one visitor – a Blue Jay. It was unusual to see a single jay without a mate. Jays mate for life and are particularly social creatures. But perhaps this bird was young and had not found its mate yet, though they mate early, usually when they are about one year old.

As I watched, I noticed there was something different about the bird. This jay wasn’t calling out or imitating other birds’ calls. It wasn’t jiggling around on the feeder as it generally does. Its crest was resting flat against its head instead of being up and spiky; the crest will extend upward when a jay is agitated or on alert for some reason. The bird seemed to be enjoying a rare moment of quiet. I stood at the window while it continued eating, half expecting a crop of other jays to join in. It didn’t happen. When the jay finished its meal, it took off, leaving the feeder swinging after its departure.

The funny thing was that although I was excited to see it, I could sense the bird’s peaceful state. And why not? We can tune into other people’s energy, know when they are happy or sad, angry or joyful, even when they aren’t doing anything specific. It’s etched on the face and radiates outward. We can feel a dog’s emotions, respond to our pet cat’s restlessness. Why shouldn’t we be receptive  to other creatures' energy as well?

Later in the morning, the feeders were crowded with finches and cardinals and yes, Blue Jays. Everything was aflutter then, not peaceful at all. I was glad that the Blue Jay had a calm start to its day and thankful that I was able to share it.

For a full description of Blue Jay life and behavior:

Mating behavior of the Blue Jay:

Monday, March 17, 2014

Is It Spring Yet?

Is It Spring Yet?

The poor squirrel, huddled in the bush, no doubt confused by the latest weather. It’s confusing for all of us. We had about 3-4 inches of snow today while down in the D.C. area, there was 8 inches on the ground. Isn’t that south of New Jersey? New York, which is north of us, didn’t have any.

On March 20th it will officially be Spring. It may not feel like it to us yet but the flowers know. Daffodils are beginning to peek out of the ground.  Snowdrops, crocuses, hyacinths, forsythia, snapdragons, camellias all welcome the early spring. Time to think about the garden.

As the snow melts, I venture into the backyard to see which plants have survived the winter. The pachysandra have defied the ice onslaught. Our dappled willows are starting to put out foliage and the azaleas have hints of green under the latest coating of white.

Mother Nature has her own timetable, taking in the amount of light as well as the temperature. We do, too. Some people have seasonal affective disorder, being particularly sensitive to the shortened light of winter. Many of us have said this year, “I’m ready for Spring!” The warmer weather and the brighter days tend to cheer us up. The brightly colored flowers help bring a lift to the spirit.

Ah, Spring. It’s almost here. Enjoy!

A list of flowers that grow all through Spring:

Seasons can affect how we feel:

Monday, March 10, 2014

Winter Is Getting Warmer - Really

Winter Is Getting Warmer - Really

Even though we officially have to wait until March 20th there is evidence of Spring all over. New leaves are sprouting on my azaleas. The lilac bushes have impatient buds on all the branches. I see robins hopping around the neighborhood pecking at the saturated ground for worms. Clumps of ice are slowly melting, revealing things that have been hidden for months. Practically everyone I know says the same thing: I’m ready for winter to be over.

We aren’t the only ones yearning for Spring. Ducks have had it hard this year. They migrate to find food and nesting places, both of which become difficult to find when there is an excess of snow and ice. The robins that have returned, until this week, were pecking away at the snow, trying to get underneath to find food. Geese were spotted making nests on mounds of snow and skidding on the underlying ice. It has been some winter.

And yet, the earth has had a warm year. In some areas, it has been an unseasonably warm winter. The earth has been setting records in the past dozen years. As temperatures rise, ice melts.  Polar bears are losing their ice environment. Islands have flooded. The oceans have risen. It is a self-perpetuating cycle: as temperatures rise, carbon dioxide increases and as CO2 increases, temperatures rise. It’s a complicated situation to understand, especially after an extended period of snow. So I went to NASA’s website for kids to help make sense of it all:

I wonder if the definition of our seasons will be changing in the future and what is our part in that change? It’s not something to sluff off because it isn’t only the ducks and geese and polar bears that are affected, it’s us, too. 

Some late-season weather statistics:

Waterfowl react to seasonal changes, too:

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Beauty of the Unexpected

The Beauty of the Unexpected

I love to find joyful surprises during the day. This morning, one of them came in the form of a grackle on the feeders. The sun was shining on its feathers, bringing out the iridescence that is not always visible. It was as beautiful as it was unexpected.

Usually, grackles are not my favorite birds. They can be problematic around the normal backyard birds. They come in large flocks that scare off the smaller birds and they decimate the seeds in the feeders. I often shoo them off, watching them flutter into the trees where they wait for me to forget about them and then they return to continue feeding. And when they appear in vast numbers along their migration paths, they can pose health problems, damage crops, and create quite a mess.

In an ordinary backyard, however, there are ways to minimize their presence. Choosing feeders that discourage them is one way. A feeder with a cylinder wrapped inside a cage pretty much keeps them out. But it doesn’t mean that they won’t hang around for a while, munching on seeds thrown out by the other birds. They are also very observant, so if you don’t mind waving at them through the window several times they may eventually take off. And they do migrate so sooner or later they’ll be gone, leaving the feeders to the regulars.

Even though I often chase them away, I do appreciate these big black, yet colorful birds. They are native to North America, have a yearly presence, and shake me out of the winter doldrums with their beauty. They also remind me not to make judgments based solely on appearance, whether about birds or situations or people, because you never know when the unexpected can help you to see things differently and sometimes with joy.

If the grackles are getting piggy, try these techniques: