Friday, March 18, 2011

The color of spring

Nature decides when it's really spring. She lets us know one bit of color at a time.

Today, weeping willow fronts tinge yellow as they begin to bud. Green daffodil leaves persist in pushing through the brown mulch on flower beds. Magnolia buds pulse a dusty sage green.

It will be some time - maybe weeks - before the daffodil blooms pop their yellow trumpets, before the magnolia tree is covered with pink and white teacup blossoms, before the willow tree weeps yellow pollen.

But everything will happen. When nature decides it's really spring.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Hope in a Bluebird house

I remember the very first Eastern Bluebird I saw.  The unexpected colors of that charming little bird perched on the top wire of the fence that separated my country school yard from a farm field caught my eye. It was only there for a few seconds, but I always remembered the lovely blue, dusty rose and white. I can still feel the thrill, the joy, I felt to see such beauty for the first time. Though I kept my eyes open for more bluebirds, I happened across only a handful in the past 50 years.

That is, until my husband and I moved to an acreage five years ago. I couldn't believe our good fortune to see many bluebirds flitting through our trees. Bluebird nesting houses posted along a neighbor's fence no doubt encouraged the pretty birds to come and stay. I bought a bluebird book to understand them better. The book provided detailed - and simple - instructions for building nesting boxes, but we never made the effort.

In the last two years we haven't seen near so many bluebirds. I blame a late spring cold snap a couple of years ago that may have set nesting birds back a generation or two. Or it could be that the neighbors aren't maintaining their nesting boxes.

Anyway, we dug out the book and refreshed our memory of what attracts bluebirds. Come to find out, bluebirds like honeysuckle hedge and grapevines. We have both.  In a few hours, my husband built a nesting box and installed it on our fence.

Now, every day when I look out the kitchen window, I see the box and the box gives me hope. Hope for the next generation of bluebirds. Hope for seeing the unexpected beauty of their colors flashing across the sky. Hope for a return of the childlike joy I feel each time I see them.

* The Bluebird Book: The Complete Guide to Attracting Bluebirds
*Bluebird photo from National Geographic

Monday, March 14, 2011

Itchin to get my hands dirty

I've been off the farm for years, but I'm a farmer at heart. Every spring, I can't wait to get outside and get some dirt under my fingernails. Friday was the day.

Temperature almost 60. Sunshine. Mild breeze. I was on it.  I removed the dried remnants of coneflowers and black-eyed Susans, astilbe and meadow rue. I picked up twigs knocked from trees by winter snow and wind. And I walked around the prairie.

This is the second full summer for my prairie. The first following a summer where the flowers and grasses reached full size.  As promised, the prairie stood strong throughout the winter. And it stands strong now. New growth is beginning to show at ground level, but it will be a long time before this year's plants reach the height of last year's.

I'm curious how the new growth will replace the old. My husband volunteered to mow it off.  I declined. Prairies existed before lawn mowers and I presume every square inch wasn't tromped down by buffalo.  I could do a little tromping of my own, but I'm waiting. Impatiently as always.

Having spent my life making my gardens conform to my idea of beauty - tidy, weed free, contained - it remains a challenge to my sensibilities to just let it go. But I'm committed to trying with the prairie.

When I walked around the prairie and my hands were still itching to do something, I walked back to the gardens around the house to clean off more garden debris.  I'm still learning about prairies, but one thing I do know already - the prairie will do just fine without me.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Winter's last, beautiful gasp

I walked out of the Des Moines Art Center last night and into a winter wonderland.  Big, wet snowflakes the size of golf balls filled the air and covered the ground. The snowfall was absolutely silent, but the flakes were so large it was easy to imagine hearing a 'plop' as each one landed. I hurried to the car in a somewhat futile attempt to protect my sketch pad. 

With my art supplies safely stowed in the back seat, I turned my attention to clearing the car windows.  A few swipes of my bare hand cleared the back window. It wasn't cold enough to bother digging out my gloves. By the time I was back in the car, globs of snow hung like Christmas tree decorations on my coat, jeans and hair. The whole thing made me laugh. It was so unexpected, so pretty, so spring.

At 9:30 p.m., there was little traffic on the freeway and those who were out moved slowly over the slick roads. Two inches of snow fell in about an hour, but it was so heavy and wet that, when combined with above freezing temperatures, it compressed to a half inch.

I'm not a big fan of snow in March, but if we had to get snow, I'm all for this kind.  I'm also for the 50 degree temperatures the weather forecasters predict for later this week.  That's another good thing about March snow. It will be all gone soon.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

26 robins say spring

There are 26 robins under the crab apple tree outside my office window. Twenty-six, give or take. They keep hopping around, so I can't be absolutely sure. This is the second large sightings or robins in our yard this spring.

According to our trusty National Audubon Society Field Guide, robins don't go south in the winter, as I grew up believing. They may actually stay in Iowa over the winter or fly even further north to Canada.

And, now I've been told the turkey vulture is a better gauge of when spring arrives. The turkey vulture will not eat frozen meat (they probably don't even know where it is if they can't smell it), so they don't arrive until the weather is warm enough to ensure sufficiently stinky carrion.

What an assault these facts are to my understanding of spring!

If robins do stay in Iowa over the winter, they are quite invisible.  It's only when the snow has melted, only the day light hours begin to surpass the dark, only when the calendar moves toward late February that I see robins working our yard again. Only when spring is in sight.

Though I appreciate the vultures for their efforts to recycle carrion, they just aren't as lovable as a sign of spring. So, regardless of what the experts say, I say: Hello, robins! Welcome, spring!