Backyard January bird count at the feeders by the Grandfather Fir tree and the little Star Magnolia: 4 quail; 4 doves, 4 Steller’s jays, 2 northern flickers, numerous juncos, sparrows, house finches, and chickadees, 2 starlings!, 4 towhees, 2 varied thrushes, a downy woodpecker, and a nuthatch on the tree trunk. It is cold. They are here in great numbers, many more than usual, and I can feel the urgency in their quest for food. Suddenly, in a flush, everyone vanishes. Moments later, a hawk lands in the apple tree. Everyone is hungry this bright cold morning.
It has been a wild start to the new year.
We finished off December and began January on a roller coaster of extremes. In December, temperatures in the 50s made us think that maybe there wouldn’t be a winter this year. On several days, we saw just enough drizzle on one side of the house to create a rainbow on the other.
We were slammed with winter reality soon thereafter. A cold front moved down from Canada, bringing with it hellacious winds, which, combined with the King Tides timed with the new moon, created swells that crashed over boulder berms, tossed driftwood logs over roadways, and then peppered everything with gravel. The air smelled of salt and power. We went to a nearby beach where a spit of land reaches out into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, that strip of water between Washington State and Canada, to feel it up close and personal. Nature did not disappoint.
We often like to go to this particular spot to watch the sunsets and the gulls playing in the wind. They will hover in one place, float sideways along the shore, or rise up, drop a clam onto the rocks, and then dive down to get it. Not today. Today they were all hunkered down low in the parking lot. Spaced evenly apart, their feathers smoothed out behind them, they were all facing the same direction: into the wind. They did not look up as we drove around them.
Into the Wind.
It hit me like a cold gust in the face.
In the field near our house where the trumpeter swans and the snow geese gather, stood two eagles. How odd, I thought, to see them both just standing out there. Their nest is large and bulky in the Douglas Fir across the road. Obviously, they thought the better place to be was on the ground where they could still see it, facing west, together against the wind.
And then came the cold and snow.
The winds continued to bluster over 50 mph. Temperatures plummeted. Stinging needles of snow hurtled sideways. A swarm of bushtits clung to the suet cage, grasping at the life-saving energy source as they rocked back and forth.
As darkness fell, the snow continued, sometimes swirling from off the roof, accumulating in measurable inches on the picnic table on our deck, and blanketing the world as we know it.
In the night, the wind subdued; I got up to see what magic had befallen. My light illuminated the old fir tree and its branches heavy with snow; the white ground beneath softly glowed. All was very very quiet. Shhhhh….
I am reminded of so many days and nights hidden in my memories when living off-grid during winters deep with snow, we kept the fires burning in a little cabin that glowed in the deep dark woods while we snuggled up with small children and told them stories of bears snoring in caves, of rabbits hopping over fields of white where they could not be seen, of coyotes curling up with their bushy tails wrapped around their noses, and of little voles snuggling into burrows made of the fluff of dandelions, milkweed, and shredded grasses.
Winter is a time of sleep.
The to-do list can wait. We let go of our preconceived ideas of what we might be able to accomplish. For right now, in this very moment, the world is full of sparkles and hushed. The temperature dips to 9 degrees; at sea level, mind you, it is possibly the coldest it has ever been here. People are not prepared. Have the homeless found refuge? Where do the birds and small mammals go? Who still defies the King Tides of winter? Will the pipes freeze? Are my children safe?
We, like the gulls, hunker down. For us, there is no need to go anywhere. Yet.
The next day is bright and clear. The shadows are long and dark across the new-fallen snow and in stark contrast to the blue sky.
These cold temperatures are rare here. We take a walk to see what art was created with water and ice. Again, Nature did not disappoint. The world is transformed into a glistening wonder.
What is next?
It feels like a new day – and it IS! – whether it is the turning of a new year or a single revolution of the planet, every day is an opportunity for transformation.
I often find myself at a crossroads, wanting to write about everyday small miracles we see in our backyards, but recognizing it is a bit insensitive to rhapsodize over the magic of the seasons when so many are struggling to keep warm or have enough to eat. The inequity of human situations and the feeling of helplessness can be overwhelming. We turn off the news because of the incessant bombardment of negativity: increasingly mean-spirited politics, neighborhoods turned to rubble in war, one disaster after another. We have been too long in denial while our planet becomes uninhabitable for our species. To protect my sanity, I escape through my garden, art, music, and walks into the wild. I take photos and write about it.
But there is a bigger picture we need to look at – and we need to pay attention. I realized the gulls, the eagles, and the little birds beneath the feeders were all trying to tell me something. As a human being, we are unique in that we DO have the power to reverse this trajectory of destruction. It’s very simple, really.
We have to face the wind. Together.
Work together. Reach out. Transform our backyards into little oases of abundance for humans and wildlife alike – one yard next to another – and then connect the dots.
The calendar days are ticking. As the Wolf Moon rises and the Quiet Moon sets, we are just a few days from the ancient Celtic celebration of St. Brigid, aka Imbolc: that midway point between winter solstice and spring equinox (which because it is a leap year, officially falls on February 4 this year). Many anoint February 1 to celebrate the herald of spring. Under this winter blanket, I know there are seeds just waiting to sprout. The melting snows, wet soil, and longer days tell the world to wake up.
I feel like shouting this from my field: “Wake up!”
When will human creatures see the light?
Temperatures will continue to dip to record lows or rise to new highs; snows will paralyze some communities while fires will annihilate others; those who try to defy or control Nature will be put back in their place; and until humans can learn to get along and help one another, we will continue to wreak inconceivable sadness around the world.
Minute by minute, the days are getting longer. We are now back up to the low 50s – in January! I take advantage of the weather to climb up into the apple trees, prune away the water sprouts, and open the canopy to the sun. The air smells like a crisp wintry day. The horse and sheep in the neighbor’s pasture bring a feeling of calm in the afternoon, now drizzling with rain. Perhaps there is a rainbow? A breeze is picking up. I can smell change on the way.
I turn my face into the wind.
Please join me.
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