Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Do Robins Herald Spring?

Do Robins Herald Spring? 

the robins are here
redbreasts hopping on brown grass
prompting thoughts of spring

This weekend it’s officially Spring. Hard to believe when today’s temperature is in the 30s to low 40s and tomorrow it will be hovering around freezing again. The forecast for Friday is snow.

But there are signs all around to bring our thoughts to warmer times. Daffodils are rising green and confident despite the weather predictions. Soon there will be bright, yellow flowers cheering up the barren garden. The lilac bushes are putting out tiny, cautious buds that will become fragrant purple blossoms. Geese are heading north in noisy flocks. And there are robins bounding over grass that is still recovering from being packed down with snow, finding worms and renewing expectations of the next season

Robins are credited with heralding Spring. Is that true? Well, some do migrate and return as winter starts to let go but many stay in their breeding grounds. They may be huddled in more wooded areas where there is more protection so they are less noticeable; it all depends on the availability of food. Our affection for the robin as herald remains in tact, however, and why not? Robin-spotting is a way for us to anticipate the more amiable season. 

In the midst of Winter it is always easy to pine for Spring but then we often ache for Summer and its swimming weather only to welcome Autumn for the heat-relief it brings. Then Winter calls to skiers, sledders, and everyone for holiday fun. The year’s variety, while it can be challenging, is emotionally bracing. It adds variety to our days and a sense of movement to our lives; almost like a well-written novel, it keeps us intrigued about what will happen next.

For the most part I like the change of seasons. And when I see the robins, even if they have been here all along, just out of my sight, my energy shifts into a lighter space. It’s time to expand, to plant, to come out of the house and greet the world that, like me, is ready to be new and refreshed. The first robin we see is a reminder of all of that.

Robin myths and reality:

More about robins:

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Squirrel on the Roof

Squirrel on the Roof

It was a busy morning, in my head, anyway. I was wondering what to do first – go food shopping or work on the article I was writing or go to the library to return and replenish books or get a jump on house cleaning or bring stuff to the cleaners or…well, that was the kind of day it started out as. Food shopping won and I was on my way to the car when I saw a squirrel on the roof of the house. He/she was looking down at something. Then he looked up. Then turned toward me but didn’t scoot down as I expected he would. It seemed that he was just staring into space.

I sat in my car watching him for a while before I went on my errand. Was that squirrel going through a similar conundrum about what to do today or did he have something particular in mind? I know squirrels are smart. I have seen them figure out ways to get onto the bird feeders regardless of the obstacles we put in their way. A study of gray squirrels from the University of Exeter shows that they learn from observation, particularly if it relates to finding food. Was this one planning its next meal? Well, so was I.

I drove off to the market but I didn’t forget about that squirrel. We are learning so much about how animals think. Humans may be verbal but we are not exclusive to intelligence. Each species has its own way of interpreting information, especially about feeding, mating, and survival. It makes me look at other creatures with a less jaundiced eye. We all have to contend with the circumstances of life and we all need smarts to do it. Perhaps focus is the key. When I returned home the squirrel was gone. I had no doubt that he made a wise decision from the perspective on the roof.

University of Exeter study:

A fascinating study on animal intelligence by Virginia Morrell:

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

What a Winter!

What a Winter!

It snowed a few days ago. Then we had freezing rain. The streets were iced and the accidents abundant. Then it thawed a bit causing some flooding. Now, late afternoon on this gray Tuesday it is starting to snow again. Just a few flakes so far and only a couple of inches predicted. Oops, it has already shifted to freezing rain. It’s one storm after another.

What a winter. It is affecting the whole country differently. Boston is on the cusp of having record snows this year: Maine already surpassed its record. And while it would seem terrific to be in San Francisco where the Bay Area is experiencing the warmest weather in its history, it also in the midst of a record drought. Even Sitka, Alaska, is having an unusual winter – it’s warmest.

Call it polar vortex or whatever, it is certainly a strange season. I wonder how the migrating creatures are faring. Are they as confused as we are? Is nature playing games with us or is it that we have been playing games with nature? Both, it seems. Nature traditionally fluctuates in the amount of heat and chemicals available to earth but it is human activity that is creating a larger problem. Check out what NASA and the Environmental Protection Agency have to say about climate change. This winter may be a fluke but it might be a harbinger as well.

Temperature extremes this winter:

NASA’s look at climate change:

For an in-depth analysis from the EPA: