It’s been a long, cold winter here in western New York. The kind of blustery, bone-chilling winter that starts in early November and makes you cancel your outdoor plans, and throw on an extra sweater, and look longingly through your collection of garden planners. It was the kind of winter that makes you feel like it will be winter for ever and spring will never come again.
We got our first reprieve yesterday, when temperatures soared to 65 degrees. It was wall-to-wall sunshine, and it felt wonderful! Yesterday I noticed a pair of blue birds hovering around the nest box. When I went outside last evening to investigate, I saw that the female had placed precisely two sprigs of pine needles inside the box. Today, when I arrived home from work, I went out to check again. Mama has had a busy day!
Touring the yard, I saw the beginnings of the sixty-five tulips I planted last fall poking up through the ground. Discovering a patch of crocuses nearby, I hurried inside to get my camera…
It made me really happy to see this little honey bee taking advantage of the warm weather and finding nourishment in the crocuses. And who doesn’t love these guys!
Though the temperatures today didn’t come close to the mid-sixties we had yesterday, and there are snow flurries in the forecast for tomorrow, these signs of spring, these lovely gifts of nature, give me hope that indeed, spring really is on its way.
What a welcome surprise, after a week of gray skies and rain, to wake up this morning to a sunny, sixty-degree day! Needless to say, as I sat on my porch with my pumpkin spice coffee, watching the leaves come down, my plans to spend the morning doing laundry went right out the window. It was just too nice a day to be inside, especially with the coming week’s forecast a little on the iffy side.
With pumpkins on my mind, I pulled on a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt and headed up the hill to Jenkin’s Farm Market, one of my very favorite places. When I arrived, I allowed myself the pleasure of getting lost in their gorgeous selection of mums, finally selecting pots of deep burgundy, variegated rust and gold, and my all time favorite pale salmon. With that decided, I moved on to their wagonful of pumpkins.
The nice summer weather yielded a better crop this year than last, and I’ll admit I had some trouble deciding. Especially since one of the items on My50List is “carve a pumpkin,” something I haven’t done since my son was ten or eleven. Decorating with pumpkins is one thing, but choosing a Jack O’ Lantern is quite another. You have to study each one carefully to get a feel for the kind of face you wish to create. Since I’d already decided my Jack would be the wide-eyed, smiling variety, this large, plump oval seemed the perfect choice.
On my way back down Stony Brook hill I spied a farmer set up with an unusual display of gourds. I chose a pretty, large white one and another of the warty, green and yellow striped variety. The farmer also had a great selection of home grown veggies, and I couldn’t pass up a couple of quarts of salt potatoes. Mmmmm!
Back home, I wasted no time in carving my pumpkin. I took him outside and arranged him, along with my other autumn treasures, into my flower cart.
The fall air was so revitalizing that I even had the energy to tackle that mountain of laundry!
When I moved to the country, nine years ago, I was thrilled at the prospect of having five whole acres in which to play. When I started to envision garden spots, the empty space at the edge of my driveway seemed like a logical first step. With full sun for most of the day, it was the perfect place for planting spring flowers. After looking through dozens of gardening catalogues, I finally decided to order a complete spring garden: mixed tulips, sunny daffodils, delicate hyacinth. When my order arrived, I pulled on my garden gloves and went to work, painstakingly following the directions as I planted the 150 mixed bulbs, visions of springtime glory dancing in my head. That night, I had unexpected company in the form of a hungry skunk and the next morning my vision was shattered when I discovered 100 empty holes where my beautiful bulbs had been. It was a hard lesson learned.
Thankfully, all was not lost, and my ten surviving tulip bulbs have, over the last nine years, multiplied into twenty-some. I have gone on to add lilies, lupins, and gaillardia for a colorful, season-long parade of blooms. But recently, I revisited my vision of a lovely spring garden, and added “Plant 50 Tulips” to My 50 List. To make sure I did it, I mail-ordered two collections of bulbs, a mix of traditional red and yellow Dutch tulips, as well as a pretty, pastel mix. As of last week, they still hadn’t arrived. Impatient, I went to Wal Mart and bought a couple of collections to get me started. I love the gorgeous double tulips, almost peony like in their size and shape, so I picked up a set of those in mixed colors, along with a collection of regular bulbs in a shade of pale apricot. Today was a beautiful day for planting, so I took my bags of bulbs out front and got started. Back to school now, with limited time for gardening, I’ve missed the feel of soil beneath my hands, so I worked without my gloves. When I had my bulbs all planted and watered, I gave the area a liberal shot of Repels All to ward off those hungry skunks!
Opening the package of apricot bulbs, I changed my mind about planting them in the front garden and moved to the little flower cart bed beside my blue bird house. I didn’t have any spring bulbs planted there, so hopefully this April I will have a profusion of lovely tulips to kick off the blooming season. I’ll let you know!
This summer, in my bird watching adventures, I noticed the distinct absence of blue jays in my yard. Despite their bad reputation for terrorizing smaller birds and hogging the bird feeders, I’ve always liked these beautiful, blustering birds with their magnificent blue coats and black collars so I welcomed this sassy visitor who sat in the pine trees, scolding me while I worked!
Back in April, a house sparrow got inside my blue bird house and killed all four baby blue birds. The site of those poor, defenseless, featherless babies was one of the saddest things I have encountered to date.
When the blue birds returned, a few weeks later, and began to build a new nest, I was both hopeful and dismayed. For weeks, I have worried and fretted over the blue bird babies as if they were my own children. I have stood at the window, obsessing, binoculars in hand, and watched the process every step of the way with no small amount of pride and delight. The nest building. The egg laying, and within the last three weeks, the feeding.
When the first egg had been laid, I put up a sparrow spooker to keep those heartless competitors away from “my” nest box. When I saw them nearby, I ran outside to shoo them away. Knowing I could not guard the birdhouse 24:7, I prayed to God for the baby blue birds’ safekeeping. Morning and evening I stood beneath the bird house, my heart thrilling to the unmistakable sound of their peeping.
Each summer I have the task of painting the deck on the back of my house and since it was a bright, sunny morning, today seemed a good day to start. But first, I went out front to make my rounds. I noticed Mama blue bird acting peculiarly. She sat on a telephone wire above, letting me know in no uncertain terms that my presence wasn’t welcome. I cautiously approached the bird house and there, in the shade of the weeping crab tree, I discovered my pay day. The first fledgling had left the nest! I grabbed my camera, snapped this photo, and then left mother alone to show her baby the ropes.
Throughout the morning I couldn’t resist peeking into the front yard to see what they were up to. The baby seemed content to sit in the sun, occasionally ruffling his feathers as Mama stood guard. Around noon, with the deck painting well underway, I decided to take a break. After lunch, I went out to the front yard to check on baby’s progress and discovered he was gone. I immediately began to fret, thinking of all the possible scenarios. I thought of slithery snakes, and hungry stray cats on the prowl. Had he somehow gotten into the road? Had some evil hawk come along and carried him away? I did a thorough check of the yard, looking under every bush and shrub. Not finding him anywhere, I sent up a last prayer for his safekeeping and went out back to finish my deck.
Who says God doesn’t have a sense of humor?
I’ve known for quite some time that I was going to have to replace the old bird house. The wood is rotting. The roof is leaky. The floor is weather-beaten to the point that the whole house pitches precariously to the left. Still … I couldn’t bear the thought of taking it down.
I received this lovingly handcrafted bird house as a birthday gift several years ago. When I bought my country home, seven years ago, I put it up in the front yard, thinking it would make a wonderful decoration. Little did I know the joy the house would bring me as it sat on its post year after year, lending shelter to countless families of blue birds. Replacing it was going to take something mighty special.
Last Sunday I happened off the beaten path to Wallace, NY where I came across a shop called Cross My Heart. I really didn’t have time to stop. I was on my way to Bath, where I was supposed to meet someone at 4:00. From Wallace, that would be a ten minute drive and it was already 3:45. But when I saw the charming display of bird houses out front, I simply couldn’t resist. Five minutes, I told myself. Just a peek and then I’ll be on my way. Sometimes you find the most wonderful treasures in the most unlikely places, and with Cross My Heart, that was definitely the case. My five minutes were up before I even made it through the front door!
The sign out front says 100 Bird houses and that is surely an understatement. The shop is chock-full of handmade birdhouses of every kind. There were houses for wrens and for blue birds, for chickadees and for purple martins. Some were large homes, and some, apartment sized. Some were hand painted with quilt pieces, and some adorned with whimsical antiques, such as door knobs and old fashioned faucets. But all are hand crafted, and all made with love by the owner, Diane Rivers. One thing is for certain, no bird is left behind at Cross My Heart!
Diane greeted me with a smile when I walked in. As I browsed, we chatted about birdhouses and shared our birding experiences and I discovered a kindred spirit in this lovely, knowledgeable lady. With so many choices and so little time, I left empty handed. That time. But today I returned and selected a treasure of my own. The card attached to it said: “I do like this horrible ugly tongue-in-groove that was a door stored in the upstairs of K. Teters’ barn, Bath, NY. The roof is from a 200 year-old barn in Atlanta, NY.”
This fall, when the last of the blue bird babies have flown away, I will finally take down the old house and replace it with the new one, which is not only a blue bird house, but a piece of local history. It will be a place where new families are nurtured, and new memories made. And that’s something I can definitely feel good about!