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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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