To stretch my legs and get some fresh air during our self-quarantine time, I took a short drive to a local park. I was the only one there. As I walked along the paved path, I found this female Mallard resting on a limestone boulder in a small stream near Dayton, Virginia. She looked pretty contented to me.
Eastern Bluebirds are some of my favorite birds. I love everything about them. Their colors are stunning, as this male perfectly models. Their songs are subdued, wishful, peaceful, and satisfying. They are docile, eat tons of insects and seeds, and are generally congenial to humans. Once on the decline, Eastern Bluebirds are making a comeback thanks in part to bluebird trails being established in appropriate habitat for them.
I took this photo five years ago in our Ohio backyard. This male was basking in the morning sunshine on a day late in March. Eastern Bluebirds made regular visits to my feeders year-round.
I could hear my wife’s sewing machine humming in the guest bedroom. Neva was piecing together yet another one of her lovely wall-hangings or comforters. She hadn’t yet decided which it would be.
I frequently darted out of the room that is my office and announced to her breaking news about the coronavirus pandemic. None of it was good.
The disturbing information flowed in like a tsunami. It arrived on the TV, the internet, text messages, emails, and social media. The latter was a jumble of emotions, some folks trying to keep comments on the lighter side of life, while others were angry, confused, hurt, disbelieving.
All of those reactions were legitimate, and through this global pandemic, we all have no doubt experienced the full range of human emotions. It feels like September 11, 2001, all over again, only in slow motion.
However, unlike that infamous day, we could see this coming. The many forms of media basically did their job. They kept and are keeping us informed with the latest updates. That’s their job. Some people openly denied the warnings of the obvious, while others tried humor to relieve the tensions. Nothing seemed appropriate. Nothing seemed right.
So much news came in so fast that my head spun. It all felt like a bad dream, only I couldn’t wake up. It just kept getting worse.
Here in Virginia’s bucolic Shenandoah Valley, the weather was spring-like. I needed to get outside, away from all of the clatter and news of economic, medical, and political calamity. I told Neva that I was going for a walk, and she eagerly joined me. She, too, needed a break.
Neva and I immediately became aware that this was no ordinary stroll. Though sound occurred, the atmosphere felt eerily strange and heavy. It was like an episode of the Twilight Zone.
As we ambled along, we saw no other people. No vehicles passed us. Social distancing was a moot point. We usually see several others as we wander around the paved streets of our sprawling neighborhood. Today, not even the usual dog walkers were out.
A thousand robins chirped with every step. Other sounds caught our attention in the eeriness. A quarter-mile away, a pile-driver pounded away at the thick blue limestone bedrock at a construction site.
So did a single hammer at a new home going up three streets over. It drew us like two curious kids wanting to check out the action. We surveyed the house already framed and roofed, intrigued by the noises of wood against wood, metal against metal preparing for the next building stages.
When we returned home, the news continued to pour in. The NCAA canceled the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments canceled. The Major League Baseball season would be delayed. An acquaintance from our church had died. Nursing homes were quarantined. Schools were closing one state after the other.
Governors of multiple states prohibited large gatherings. No more than 25 in California. It was 500 in New York, 100 in several other places. The stock market continued to plunge in fear of the unknown.
That’s what fear does to humans. It riles us up, makes us think, do, and say crazy, unhealthy, panicky things. It’s no way to live.
That’s why we took our little walk to clear our hearts, minds, and souls of the fallout from the cascading crisis. All we could do at that moment was to breathe. Out of new habit, I washed my hands for the longest time before Neva’s sewing machine began to hum again.
Since the 2020 vernal equinox happens at 11:49 p.m., EDT in Harrisonburg, Virginia, I wanted to share with you last year’s first spring sunset. Given the cloud cover, I wasn’t sure just how much color we would get. Those blue Allegheny Mountains served as a lovely contrast to the blazing sky.
“There’s a hawk in the backyard,” my wife hollered from the other end of the house. I rushed to where she was. The bird was on the ground near the line of evergreens that divide our yard from a neighbor’s.
It was the neighborhood Cooper’s hawk. I had seen it before swooping low over homes in search of its favorite target, songbirds that frequented backyard feeders. I had briefly seen it in our backyard before.
The hawk’s blood-red eyes shown even from that distance without my binoculars. It was too big for another similar accipiter, the stealth sharp-shinned hawk. This beautiful Cooper’s had made a kill and was ripping it apart with its sharp, hooked bill.
I hurried to retrieve both my binoculars and my camera to watch the unfolding drama. I need not have rushed. The hawk remained in the same spot undisturbed, devouring its catch for nearly an hour.
At first, I thought the Cooper’s had captured one of the many grey squirrels that frequent our yard in search of food or to drink from the birdbaths placed around the exterior of the house. As soon as I lifted the binoculars to my eyes, I knew it wasn’t a squirrel.
I could see feathers scattered on the ground around the hawk. It had captured one of the mourning doves that come to the feeders or roost in our trees.
I wasn’t sad, nor did I think the scene gruesome. Neva and I had witnessed the balance of nature in progress, “survival of the fittest,” as some refer to it. Just as the dove needed food, water, and shelter, so did the hawk. In this case, the dove was at the wrong end of the food chain.
Empath that I am, I felt a little sorry for the poor mourning dove, but not that sorry. After all, the Cooper’s hawk needed to eat, too. That’s the way of nature.
I try to not get too attached to birds and other wildlife that I encounter. Instead, I just try to enjoy them and their various antics. Each one seems to have a personality all its own, behaviors that set it apart from others of the same species. The riotous European starlings might be the exception to that observation.
I marvel at how nature unfolds, sometimes at her own expense. Once, while watching sandhill cranes walk toward me in Florida, I heard a commotion behind me. A bald eagle had snatched an American coot from a channel. The eagle landed in a large tree where black feathers flew as the eagle ripped apart its breakfast.
It’s important to remember the big picture when it comes to nature. Where would we be if birds didn’t eat insects or weed seeds or other animals? That alone is reason enough for humans to take better care of planet earth.
I watched the Cooper’s hawk off and on for the duration of its dining. It ate judiciously, pausing every now to check its surroundings. It would return to its meal, pulling sinew, flesh, and bones from the carnage.
After it flew off, I went out to inspect the crime scene. All that remained of the mourning dove were two circles of feathers. One fanned out where the dove was snagged, and the other only inches away from where the hawk dined. The hawk had eaten every other part of its victim.
That is the way nature works. It is a joy and an honor to admire her at each opportunity that she affords.
I caught this male northern cardinal chowing down on safflower seeds that I had set out for the few birds that will eat them. European starlings and common grackles won’t touch the seeds. So if they are hogging the other feeders that contain black oil sunflower seeds, the cardinals and other songbirds help themselves to the bleach-white offerings.
March is famous for its variable weather. After all, the familiar saying, “In like a lion, out like a lamb” references the month of March.
There’s a good reason for that. It’s easy to imagine our log cabin ancestors being more than ready for spring after enduring snowstorm after snowstorm. However, pioneer-era folklore was based more on hope than meteorological compilations.
They professed that if March began with yet more lion-like elements, then it had to end with gentler, calmer, warmer, more welcoming weather. Who could blame them?
It’s only natural to want more appealing weather than another cold spell. In animalizing weather, it’s much safer to deal with a lamb than a lion, especially if you were a 19th-century settler with a bad case of cabin fever.
Likely, there was more to it than that. Those hardy people believed in a balance of life. Aristotle’s “moderation in all things” was their mantra. So, they logically applied that theory to the weather as well. If March was harsh in the beginning, it should be mild by month’s end.
Unfortunately, the weather doesn’t work that way. We take what we get, and given what we have gotten in the past, March’s weather could be a doozy. A lot of factors come into play.
Welcome to March, 2013.
During the storm.
Building the snowman.
March’s normal weather, whatever normal is these days, has historically played hijinks with global societies. March is known to deliver every variety of weather in its 31 days, and not always where or when you might think.
My family has personal experience with March’s fickleness. Seven years ago, we traveled from Ohio to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley to babysit our three grandkids, then ages eight, six, and three. Their parents went on a much-needed vacation to Florida.
Shortly after we arrived, a strong cold front moved through the eastern U.S. causing chaos. While Florida froze, the storm dumped a foot of heavy, wet snow on us. Babysitting was never so much fun as we frolicked in the winter wonderland. Sled riding, building snow forts, and snowmen filled much of our time.
When we returned home a week later to Holmes County, Ohio, the weather was dreamy. Under sunny skies, Amish farmers were plowing fields with horses. Now those seem like the good old days.
It’s easy to be nostalgic about March. I always thought of the third month as the bridge between winter and spring. Hoes and rakes replaced sleds and ice skates. The snow on the daffodils never lasted long.
It’s much harder to face the reality of the Marches of the 21st century. Now, severe storms are occurring more frequently and are much stronger than in previous times.
More than a hundred years of industrialization have drastically changed global climate patterns. Tropical areas that usually receive regular rains have been drought-stricken, resulting in catastrophic wildfires. Think Australia and California.
Globally, the last 10 years have produced nine of the warmest years on record. In fact, this January was the warmest ever. That could explain in part why many skiers, ice skaters, and ice fishermen far and wide had to feel abandoned by the nearly winterless winter weather.
That said, March will still be March. It just might be wilder than in olden years. Our forebearers rhymes may have had some wishful reasoning to them. The reality in the early 21st century may deliver more dramatic climatological results.
If we are fortunate, perhaps the meteorological lion and lamb will lie down together peaceably. That might bring spring weather of biblical proportions.