Spring’s First Green

Melting snow waters and revives a tiny patch of moss.

Melting snow waters and revives a tiny patch of moss.

Early last week, I searched the few exposed patches of dirt for signs of bulbs pushing through the soil.  No sign of bulbs in the north-facing garden, yet.  Instead, I found the first bright green of the season:  An oasis of moss tucked beneath a little cavern of melting snow under our spruce tree.  Threaded with tiny seeds and spruce needles, the moss was the golden green of spring and droplets of melting snow refreshed it.  Lovely, restful green; a beautiful, hopeful color after months of black and white.

Morning Song

Each morning between 6:00 and 6:30, a male cardinal perches in the arbor vitae at the back of our yard and sings in the predawn darkness.  His melodious whistles serenade his mate, define his territory and bring cheer to the cold morning.

When the sun is higher, he whistles a more intricately patterned call.  Soon his mate comes to feed at the suet brick while he watches from the cedars, a red ornament decorating the green fronds. His lady is softly colored in olive and brown highlighted with pinkish red.  I haven’t heard her song yet this year, but female cardinals are able to sing as lovely as males, and soon she will join him — especially when they begin nesting, to communicate location and the need for food.

This cardinal pair has nested in our hedge for the past two summers.

This cardinal pair has nested in our hedge for the past two summers.

Why does the sight of a cardinal bring joy to so many people? Cardinals are common, year-round residents throughout most of Minnesota, the eastern United States and Mexico. Yet, spotting a flash of red in a tree top, at a feeder, or in a garden is always delightful.  For me, it is because cardinals sing when most other birds are silent — on frigid late-January mornings and sweltering late-summer afternoons; and because, most summers, they raise a family in the hardwood hedge in our backyard; and, simply for their red brilliance against the winter landscape or among the purple and gold in our September garden.  A common bird, perhaps; uncommonly beautiful, most certainly.

2014 TM Murray; used with permission.

A male cardinal glows in the stark winter woods.  © 2014 T. M. Murray; used with permission.

Quaking Aspen Buds

The season's first tiny catkin buds open on quaking aspens (Populus tremuloides).

The season’s first tiny catkin buds open on quaking aspens (Populus tremuloides).

Shiny, brown buds began to open on a neighbor’s quaking aspen trees today!  Each open bud held what looked like a tiny, soft, gray cat’s paw, similar to a pussy willow bud.  Aspens are members of the willow family, so it’s no coincidence that they bear soft, fuzzy catkins.  The buds will develop into long catkins, which are the aspen’s flowers. They are wind-pollinated and the male catkins will release large amounts of yellow pollen into the air later in the spring.  (According to pollen.com, poplars and junipers already are releasing low levels of pollen in the Twin Cities.)  The seeds will develop and be dispersed with tufts of soft, white “cotton” before the leaves open.

Ready for Spring

The sun rides higher in the sky and daylight lasts almost 11 hours, but those are just about the only signs of spring — and most of us long for a warm-up that stretches beyond a meager two days.  Last week brought “bookend” snowstorms:  6.4 inches of new snow on Monday and 9.9 inches on Thursday/Thursday night, for a total of 16.3 inches measured at nearby Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

As we awaited the city plows, and dug out our sidewalks, driveways and garage aprons, the meteorologists promised an end to the snow and another plunge to below-zero temperatures for at least the next week.  (In St. Paul, the average daytime high is +31°F and the nighttime low is +15°F for late February.  Today’s predicted high is +8°F with a low of -13°F.)
Fresh snow blankets white cedars in our backyard.

Heavy snow blankets white cedars in our backyard.

Ice and snow cover black spruce and a red maple in our front yard.

Ice and snow cover a black spruce and a red maple in our front yard.

How I pine for the first crocus to poke through the soil and open its delicate cup-shaped flower to the early spring sun!  But, with at least two feet of snow, plus the snow from sidewalk shoveling heaped on top of the garden, it’s likely to be several weeks before the snow melts and sunlight warms the soil.  As soon as I spy the first patch of dirt, I’ll be out every afternoon peering at the muddy earth for the first tiny, reddish-green tip of a crocus to push through to the light and signal the reawakening of life.  What signals spring to you?

In 2013, our first crocus bloomed on April 20th in our north-facing garden).  It is

In 2013, the first crocus bloomed on April 20th in our north-facing garden. (iPhone 4)

© Beth and Nature, Garden, Life, 2013-2014.  All photographs and text are created by Beth unless specifically noted otherwise.  Excerpts and links may be used as long as full and clear credit is given to Beth and Nature, Garden, Life with specific direction to the original content.  Please do not use or duplicate material from Nature, Garden, Life without written permission from Beth.