First green

St. Patrick’s Day is an enchanted time – a day to begin transforming winter’s dreams into summer’s magic.

Only some Borland to share tonight: “It’s all a matter of proportion, and of the season. Two months from now there will be bees and blossoms and balmy air, and so much green that one new shoot will go unnoticed. But right now the sight of a crocus poking up and a few courageous daffodil tips showing is reason for exclamation and delight. Spring!

It isn’t Spring, of course. Not yet. But those first few tips of green, that venture out of Winter darkness into the light again, mean that things are beginning to happen down at the root. We won’t necessarily open all the windows tomorrow, and we certainly won’t take down the storm sash or put away the overcoat and the galoshes. Ice isn’t yet something that comes only out of the refrigerator, and we still know what a snowflake looks like. But to know again the gold or purple chalice of a crocus and to see the green fingers of a daffodil certainly warms the heart.

Right now, those few shoots of new, fresh green are more important than a whole forest of green will be in May. Those shoots are a promise of May’s green forest and the performance of March’s seasonal miracle. March, when the hilltops are still as brown as December, when you wonder if you will recognize an oriole’s song again, when you think even a dandelion might be beautiful, needs such miracles.

Maybe there aren’t many such shoots yet. There shouldn’t be, in the order of things. Miracles aren’t a dime a dozen, after all, even this kind. But they do catch the hungry human eye and they lift the spirit. We yearn for them, and we cherish them. We haven’t yet lost our sense of proportion. We won’t, until May.” –from Sundial of the Seasons

The neighbor’s snowdrops are tattered now, but she has crocus! There’s also what I think may be a cherry tree with a sunny southern exposure that’s come into bloom in the last day or two. The star magnolia in my front garden has just started peeling back her winter’s velvet to reveal the pink-edged negligee underneath. There’s still only the fingertips of daffodils though. The oriole’s song is still a dream, yes, but the chickadees are singing their “fee-bee, fee-bay” songs. What’s the weather report from your neighborhood? Is it still snowing? 😉

Posted: Invisible birds afoot

The perfect cure for cabin fever yesterday morning was the chance to be out in the sunshine while doing some manual labor to help protect nesting habitat for endangered Piping Plovers and Least Terns at Sandy Hook. A small group of volunteers showed up early in the cold to install symbolic fencing around critical nesting areas in the dunes at Gunnison and North Beach.

Sandy Hook hosts one third of New Jersey’s nesting population of Piping Plovers, but nest success has been quite variable in the last few years; the main challenges having been nest predation by red foxes, flooding and human disturbance.

It’s human disturbance that the fencing seeks to control. We installed flagged string line and signage every 50 feet along the dunes – hundreds of feet of string tied with little orange flags. My job was to count out the 50 ft. distance between signs, while those with more nimble fingers tied the string and the flags. We were a pretty small group, but got lots done thanks to the use of an auger to dig the holes for the posts; in years past every hole was done with a post-hole digger. What a recipe for sore shoulders! I think Sandy Hook has 8 protected nesting areas for plovers and terns; we completed only 3 of the 8, but other groups and the park rangers are responsible for the others.

The fencing is an attempt to keep people out of the high dunes where the plovers build their nests – people with coolers on their way to the water, people with dogs, people flying kites – any of those things could cause a nest to be abandoned or crushed underfoot.

Later in the season, around Memorial Day when the chicks are hatching, volunteers will *guard* the intertidal zone which will also then be closed to the public. The plovers and their newly hatched chicks use the intertidal zone to feed and if there’s too much activity by beachgoers the plovers can be stepped on or starve. I’ve volunteered this year to be a warden on weekends and to monitor the edge of the closed area from a beach chair – to keep people out of the intertidal zone during that critical time – and to try and educate beachgoers about why the area is closed off and why the plovers and terns are worth their losing access to the beach. You might not think it, but people get pretty pissed off about losing access to the beach. A friend of mine who’s been a warden for a number of years has often been given a hard time by people and even had her tires slashed. Can you imagine being that angry at someone who’s just trying to do a good thing for birds?

I didn’t spot any plovers yesterday, but they are back. Ospreys are due in this week. Spring at the shore and its birds are coming! I’m not sure when it’ll hit me, but one day soon I’ll have to sneak away from the office to greet it at Sandy Hook. Have a look here at last year’s spring fever post – also there is a link to one of my favorite pics of piping plover chicks – aren’t they adorable? Who wouldn’t want to spend weekends getting a tan to protect them?

And please, take a minute to read Julie Zickefoose’s essay
Offseasons which she mentioned in the comments on last year’s post. It’s a beautifully-written and touching essay and part of what made me decide to actually do something this year for these birds that I treasure so much, rather than just sitting back and complaining that not enough is being done, as I did last year. Thanks for the kick in the butt… I mean… the inspiration, Julie!

I’m including this last pic mostly for Susan, but also to mention that the nude beach at Gunnison is one of the larger areas where plovers choose to nest. Not sure that I’d want to be assigned to be a warden there, but at the very least I’d have plenty of reasons (old wrinkled ones) to get some long overdue reading done this summer!


Blessed are the flexible

Looking at that pose… can you get any idea of just how good it feels? Camel pose feels wonderful to me and is my favorite among the more difficult poses. I’ve been practising yoga for about six months now, a couple times a week. *Practise* is the operative word here: practising not falling over, practising not being self-conscious about the stuff I can’t do, practising not being such a clutz!

I went to my first yoga class nearly ten years ago and was totally intimidated by it. I continued to go for a while, but eventually let it go once I realized either the teacher or the routine wasn’t a good fit for me. I didn’t expect that I would give it another try and never expected to enjoy it nearly as much as I am now.

It’s really great fun and is something of a humbling experience for me. I’ve seen a lot of improvement in terms of my strength and flexibility, but not much yet in the area of balance. I still fall all over myself regularly, but the atmosphere in the classes is such that I can laugh without feeling embarassed anymore. My poor sense of balance is a result of poor concentration skills, I know, but that’s partly what practising yoga is about, isn’t it? Developing that communication between the mind and the body without all the clutter?

Backbends like camel are a little scary because you’re sort of throwing yourself backwards into the unknown. There’s the worry that you’ll collapse or, worse, not be able to find yourself upright again. I’ve seen this pose described as one that is transformational in that it forces you to conquer fear and develop gratitude as a result. Mostly I’m just grateful for the tremendous stretch and peaceful feeling I have there. Wonderful!

Anybody else have any experience with yoga?

“Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape.”
Camel pose image from richardspics

One world

My habit of staying up late keeps me in touch with the neighborhood owls. I hear the great-horneds calling often, from the cemetary across the street or the black locust tree in our back yard, a favored perch, perhaps, because it’s the largest overlooking the farm fields and baseball green that borders our property. I’d imagine there to be lots of critters that fall within earshot of any owl perched in that tree. The screech owl, like this little one here, visits only occasionally and I’ve never been able to pinpont exactly where the whinny call originates from. Screech owls are tiny and delicate and disappear into the darkness much easier than the great-horneds whose silhouette is hard to mistake, even in the pitch black.

Of the great-horned owl Mary Oliver writes: “I know this bird. If it could, it would eat the whole world. In the night, when the owl is less than exquisitely swift and perfect, the scream of the rabbit is terrible. But the scream of the owl, which is not of pain and hopelessness and the fear of being plucked out of the world, but of the sheer rollicking glory of the death-bringer, is more terrible still. When I hear it resounding through the woods… I know I am standing at the very edge of the mystery, in which terror is naturally and abundantly part of life, part even of the most becalmed, intelligent, sunny life… The world where the owl is endlessly hungry and endlessly on the hunt is the world in which I live too. There is only one world.”

I had an experience at work today that made me feel guilty for my happy and peaceful life and for delighting in simple things. Most days in the field visiting clients are that way, to some extent but, my God, some people just have so much awfulness heaped upon them. I walk in and out of their lives and their homes, have them fill out a bunch of silly papers, and then go back to my life of plenty. Yet, I’m collecting their stories in some part of me, so many sad stories that I can almost begin to imagine the same terrible circumstances on the periphery of my own life, just waiting for the chance to descend like an owl in the darkness. The recognition of that possibility, acknowledging the unmistakable shape in the pitch dark or the ability to see the little hunter hidden among the pine boughs… I’m not sure what that means. I wonder if it serves any purpose in my life or if it makes me any better at the work I do with clients. Maybe I’m just thinking too much or paying too much attention to stories and screams in the dark.

Owl pics are education birds from the Avian Wildlife Center who gave a children’s program tonight at our monthly Audubon meeting.

The story behind the pic

I met this handsome Lab last weekend at Sandy Hook. He/she looked much like any other Lab out for a walk on a sunny day: friendly, goofy, a bit bored with the lack of any cookies or tennis balls to chase…

but then the Lab was suddenly transformed into the great hunter and regal protector after finally (!) spotting…

the sly fox hiding in the ramparts…


These two stared at each other for a bit, the Lab whining some and wanting to give chase. I learned an important lesson; if there are no cookies to grab the dog’s eye, a small furry creature like a fox (or a squirrel) will do to get *that* look on the face of a Lab.

Simple pleasures from the garden

It’s fun now to begin thinking ahead to some of the littlest pleasures the garden will bring; the hard part is finding the patience to wait. I’m not the most patient of people; I sigh and wiggle and roll my eyes through the wait in the grocery store line, lay on the horn too often when the person ahead of me at a red light daydreams past the green and generally expect instant results once I’ve put my mind to something.

A garden requires a lot of patience; there’s soil to be tended and seeds to be coddled and months in between the intention and the reward. Winter and its end, I guess, is a time to respect the process.

At any rate, I thought today about some of the things I look forward to in the coming months. I was sitting outside the office around 11 this morning, in a spot sheltered from the wind and the weak sun was shining on my face and with my eyes closed, I could imagine it June, almost. Imagination or memory, I’m not sure which, brought me this:

~the flash of a hummingbird investigating the blooms of red salvia

~the taste of a sun-warmed tomato or a perfectly ripe strawberry

~the decision to give up on the pretty fingernails (or the ridiculous gloves) and dig recklessly in the dirt with bare hands

~the feel of walking barefoot through wet grass

~the calls of osprey overhead as they commute from the river to their cell tower nest by the train station

~the delight in burying my nose in the lavender patch heedless of the bees

~the tickles from a ladybug on my arm

~the hot shower that soothes tired muscles after a day spent digging and transplanting

~the surprise on a friend’s face at the tiniest of vases filled with lily-of-the-valley or an enormous bouquet of peonies and catmint from my garden

Simple pleasures… simple things to look forward to.