Shaking things up a little, I decide not to visit the broad trunk of the big pine where I normally sit but go instead and rest up against a small oak. A bit uncomfortable, but it makes me look out rather than lean back and close my eyes. From here I can see the springtime ground is a nursey. Many green plants emerge like the sameness of newborns. They all look alike to me right now.
But, in a few weeks each plant will be transformed by scent and flower. Pale lavender of a bride’s maid’s dress, a dark waxy blue like my girlfriend’s new raincoat, and the palest pink matching the delicate headband decorating the head of my niece’s newborn daughter. Each has its own fragrance. Wild flowers.
Breaking into my reverie—here comes big-footed Professor Skookum returning from his woodland exploration. He pads up to my cross-legged sit, leans in, and rapidly licks my chin one, two, three times.
Wet nose, brushy beard, and whiskers close. My hand gently pushes him away and strokes his wide head as I say, “Just one lick allowed, remember?”
Yellow is the first color of spring around the farm. The golden blossoms of glacier lily, balsamroot, dandelion, Oregon grape, flowering currant, desert parsley, and buttercup bend in the strong spring winds.
Yellow the first color of spring is visited, or, perhaps, one could say is courted by the stumpy-bodied native bee, the perfectly symmetrical honeybee, and by the comical Oregon bumblebee. My favorite.
Spring singing frogs have quieted down now, but replacing their exuberance is the bright sun of yellow in big clumps dotting the perimeter of our six ponds. It’s wild dandelion, which I’ll never rip out or mow down. The so-called weed is the earliest and richest nectar and pollen available to all the farm’s buzzy-bees.
Click here to listen – less than 3 minutes- recommended for this post-
Cowboy leans into her, softens and becomes perfectly still. He listens and takes in her words, her hands– her emotions. Her attention enters him like a slice of enchantment, and he quiets for her—spellbound. The dog’s fur drapes and falls like a cashmere shawl, pliant, warm –comforting, and the 88-year-old woman runs her thin hands over Cowboy’s head and down across his shoulders.
“He’s so soft.” She says as she smiles a soft-smile too.
Cowboy is comfort for a weary heart. Just last week my old friend lost her husband. They had been married for over sixty years. A duet now a solo act. And literally so, because husband and wife had played music together daily or nearly so, recorded, and played for dances and jams all across the Pacific Northwest. Now, it’s the sound of two gentle breaths supporting each other as I watch from across the room and marvel at my puppy’s soothing behavior.
Now, I’m back at the farm sitting on the leaf and pine needle litter in Poult Wood watching Cowboy run flat-out through the woods. His cashmere cape-coat is flung back by the wind as he effortlessly weaves through the trees. As he passes behind each tree, the action stops for the briefest of moments. Watching reminds me of the old-fashioned flip books I used to thumb through as a child. I loved to flip through the pages of the little booklet and make the horse’s hooves fall and its legs extend as the horse galloped across the pages.
Cowboy catches a glimpse of movement as a big gray squirrel dashes across the leafy ground and jumps for an oak trunk. The dog pivots and avoids hitting a tree as he runs to intercept the squirrel. On fire with the chase and the thrill; Cowboy is perfect in this moment too.
Click here to hear “Spring Sound” less than 2 minutes long–
I’m having a rest and sitting in a red Adirondack chair near the house. My morning farm chores are done, and I can enjoy– this spring. All the wild creatures are playing instruments for the orchestra. Hundreds of male Pacific Treefrogs are pulsing below in Big Pond and throbbing-out advertisements. As the females prepare to accept individual notes to complete the ancient mating ritual.
A large group of various small finch chitter and chatter gayly as they feed and swing about on platform feeders hanging around the farmhouse and in nearby bushes. The finches provide the higher-happy pitch, which is as bright as the clumps of blooming daffodils in our yard.
The low-noted caw of a common raven sounds above as the large black bird flies across the farm, and a Stellar’s Jay sitting in the elderberry bush produces a creaky version of the red-tailed hawk’s scream. This raven-trombone and the jay’s scratchy old- time fiddle sounds –seem unlikely players in a spring orchestra; yet, their sounds fit in with the spirit of spring that many creatures around the wood, water, and field bring.
Humans don’t make spring sounds. We talk, laugh, cry, and scream, but we do it all the time. It’s nature that makes us notice the change in the seasons.
A day to clean houses. With all this snow melt, the song birds will begin building their nests again. Some will use the twenty or so bird boxes we have erected around the farm.
Armed with a knapsack and tools, Skookum, Cowboy, and I set out across the prairie. My job is to open the Western Bluebird Boxes, remove the nest from the prior year, check the box for damage, and make sure the stake holding the box off the ground is still strong.
Skookum stays right by my side as we hike from box to box, but Cowboy is with the wind. Checking back in at speed; he buzzes by ever so often.
One of the walls of the bird box is held together by a single long nail, and if it’s tight, I have to take my pliers and work the nail out. One of our farmworkers thought the point was to keep the box together, and he put a long screw in three of our bird boxes instead of a nail, so I need to use a Phillips head screwdriver to get those spirals free.
Some boxes are empty. Most of the boxes are filled with nesting material and droppings, and some of these nests are finished with a layer of pigeon feathers the wild birds collected from my roller pigeons down at the barn. This is interesting to me, because I recently cleaned the nest boxes down at the barn, and those boxes of the domestic pigeons are often finished with wild bird feathers from California Quail and sometimes red-tailed hawk.
This year I find five boxes filled with wasp nests, and one tree swallow dead on the nest. Sometimes I have found dead nestlings inside an old box, but I have never found a dead parent. I’ve read that aggressive house sparrow males will sometimes kill an adult of another species inside the nest box, and we have some of these non-native sparrows living on the farm.
Primarily three species of birds use these boxes: Western Bluebirds, Tree Swallows, and house sparrows. This past year it doesn’t appear the bluebirds have done very well, because I don’t find any of their brilliant blue feathers inside any of the boxes I’ve cleaned out. I’ll be interested to see what I find next year.
“The point of a maze is to find its centre. The point of a labyrinth is to find your centre” David Brazzeal, Guerilla Labyrinths .
The snow is disappearing in patches. Bare spots here — there. Picking my way from spot to spot I move across the oak savannah for a labyrinth snow walk. Eventually I run out of open way, so I turn and find the beginning looking for another series of snowless patches that perhaps will lead me further.
I run into another wide stretch of snow, so I twist again and seek a fresh run of open ground to set my tennis shoes. Finally, I find an open sea that takes me right to the fated oak.
She’s worn and tired, nine branches drooping severely down. Jagged torn broken limbs litter the ground.
The oak’s rough trunk and branches are covered with a black lichen dressing like she’s been on fire. On top of the burn are pumpkin rust dots of roe-lichen and small scattered celadon plant-rosettes. Reef coral of the Oregon oak savannah.
The oak trees around the old tree are hearty–healthy with slender limb-fingers lifting in supplication toward the upper.
But the fated oak has experienced a turning.
We will one day.
I think about that as I sit on rough rock with Professor Skookum nearby. He’s twelve now. Maybe another year or two. Skookum lies heavily but comfortably on a big ice patch. Perhaps we both watch and listen for new beginnings- after all it is Spring time.
Killdeer, circling high and calling not far away are searching for snow-free ground to lay 4-6 precious eggs. They arrived as expected, but our land didn’t welcome with its season-late deep snow blanket.
And, a Say’s Phoebe, our earliest nesting bird sallies forth from an old wooden fence post as an unseen male robin sings trying to establish territory somewhere over there.
Weak- weak spring, but we’re all here –journeying– endings and beginnings surrounding the center.
From whence she came I do not know. Her shadow glides over me and snow and soars silently across the valley meadow– over Kickin’ Mule Creek, over another meadow where she alights heavily in a sentinel Ponderosa Pine. The dogs seem to have completely missed the turkey hen’s passing.
Sixty head of elk have worn a snow packed path through the meadows, into Spanish Oak alley where the lichen and moss streams down from branches; their path angling sharply downward and crossing Kickin’ Mule Creek. Professor Skookum, Gypsy, Cowboy, and I follow the easy elk road instead of trudging our own path through three feet of snow.
Like buckshot from a shotgun—a rising spray of eleven mallards peppers the sky after the dogs and I surprise the ducks. They were floating in the tiniest wild-mint filled pool in the creek. A pool just large enough for three big dogs.
How the ducks got up so quickly and cleared the branches of the woods seems magical. Gypsy stiffened into a hard stop-to -flush, but Cowboy glanced up at the fleeing ducks, wagged his tail, and tore off in glee, but not after the ducks. He ran through the creek, up the snowy embankment and into the meadow other side. While twelve year old Professor Skookum just watched then proceeded carefully with me and we picked our way around slippery creek rocks—to meet the other side.