A lovely piece about the ambiguous nature of the changing of the seasons. Originally published approximately fifteen years ago on the 19th of April, 2019... yes, late for snow.
Snow! At five o’clock this morning even though day was (theoretically) beginning, the view out the windows was no view at all. Later this morning when Environment Canada was telling us that we were getting flurries, we could barely see the trees at the back of the home field below the road. And now three hours later it is still snowing. Hey, ho, it’ll all be gone in a day or two.
Or, was that what I said last year around this time and a week or so later the snow was still with us? Only by then it had congealed into ice and the ruts we had made with the car when the snow stopped had also congealed. The car, as I recall, slipped and slithered in the grooves and the steering wheel was quite useless. By the time it became clear that the snow had no intention of going in the foreseeable future, it was also clear that nothing short of a bulldozer would budge it. Our little snowblower ran happily about on top but when directed at an edge, behaved like a small dog who has been told to tear a concrete lion limb from limb.
Just last week, my wife had mentioned that the dooryard was beginning to show a bit of green. And two days ago, as I was walking across that same dooryard, I noted with satisfaction that there were indeed grass stems extending above last fall’s thatch. Several days earlier I had gone out in the early morning to replenish supplies of bird seed, only to be struck by the quality of the sound reaching my ears. Now that the Trans Canada has gone to live elsewhere, traffic noise, even on an east wind, hardly bothers us. In fact, now I come to think of it, the presence or absence of noise from the highway used to serve as a bellwether of a change in the atmosphere. The other morning, though, the noise that greeted me was not road noise, but it certainly indicated a change – if not in the atmosphere at least in some of our neighbours.
For much of the winter and beyond, the morning air had been thick with the twittering of the crowds (hordes might be the better word) of pine siskins come to decimate the supply of finch seed. There were so many of them that even the noise of other larger but less numerous birds receded into the background. Trees and bushes within hailing distance of the feeder seemed to be talking to themselves or to each other. It was only when you looked closer that you became aware of the multitude of stripey little siskins that were in fact responsible for the impressive volume of noise.
The other morning, however, although the siskin chatter was still a feature, there were other voices that intended to be heard. The most prominent of these was the work of a stout stranger in the lilac bush directly in front of me. Unlike so many of the past winter’s visitors, this one was not striped. Although he was somewhat sideways to me, I could see the dark brown spot in the centre of his chest. And a moment later, that same chest vibrated as he threw his head back and sang the announcement of his successful return from the south, his declaration that the lilac and its environs were to be, henceforth and forever (at least until the fall), his personal property to the exclusion of all other song sparrows, and (finally!) his search for a suitable wife.
I would have tipped my hat to him if I had been wearing a hat. As it was, I nodded courteously as I went to replenish the seed supply in the feeders, but I doubt he noticed.
His melodious song opened my ears, which for so long had been accustomed to the monotonous winter chat produced by so many of the visitors to the feeders. In spite of wind and weather, that winter noise demonstrates that these tiny bits of fluff which “sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns” (Matthew 6:26) have again survived, thanks to their father in heaven, with a little help from some of their neighbours (i.e. us).
Cheering as it is, in its way, it is like the noise of a tumbling brook that runs close by, whose babble sinks into the background of consciousness and finally is not heard at all, until its note changes for some reason. That song sparrow changed the note. Clearly spring was advancing, and with it, new life. Then came the snow.
I imagine most of the green sprouts as well as the returning birds are, at this point, reviewing their options. Meanwhile the siskin chatter has returned to dominance.
Words & Images
We moved to our farm in Sussex, New Brunswick from Toronto in 1977, only moving away in 2014.