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April 18, 2017


all our narcissus have come and gone. redbuds, pears, too. my favorite, the dogwoods, are down to their last petals.

but last week, the leaves on all the trees popped out, seemingly all at once.

it's shocking how many leaves surround us, out in the forest, and how dark they make things when the sun starts to set. it's ominous when the tops of the trees are still lit and bright new green but the ground is deep in shadow.

i've plated an apple tree, two dogwoods, a holly, a rhododendron, and 8 blue rug junipers over the past two weeks. moved several yards of mulch left over from some big trees we had taken down. need more hollies, to screen us from our neighbor.


What zone are you in? 7a? That seems pretty far along -- I'm in 6b, and climate change is moving 7a north at a fast clip.

On the other hand, I'm up on ridge that's quite stony, windy & dry compared to the area, so I may be more like 6a/6b, which is the pre-climate change zone around here.

Letters from a Father


Ulcerated tooth keeps me awake, there is
such pain, would have to go to the hospital to have
it pulled or would bleed to death from the blood thinners,
but can't leave Mother, she falls and forgets her salve
and her tranquilizers, her ankles swell so and her bowels
are so bad, she almost had a stoppage and sometimes
what she passes is green as grass. There are big holes
in my thigh where my leg brace buckles the size of dimes.
My head pounds from the high pressure. It is awful
not to be able to get out, and I fell in the bathroom
and the girl could hardly get me up at all.
Sure thought my back was broken, it will be next time.
Prostate is bad and heart has given out,
feel bloated after supper. Have made my peace
because am just plain done for and have no doubt
that the Lord will come any day with my release.
You say you enjoy your feeder, I don't see why
you want to spend good money on grain for birds
and you say you have a hundred sparrows, I'd buy
poison and get rid of their diseases and turds.


We enjoyed your visit, it was nice of you to bring
the feeder but a terrible waste of your money
for that big bag of feed since we won't be living
more than a few weeks long. We can see
them good from where we sit, big ones and little ones
but you know when I farmed I used to like to hunt
and we had many a good meal from pigeons
and quail and pheasant but these birds won't
be good for nothing and are dirty to have so near
the house. Mother likes the redbirds though.
My bad knee is so sore and I can't hardly hear
and Mother says she is hoarse from yelling but I know
it's too late for a hearing aid. I belch up all the time
and have a sour mouth and of course with my heart
it's no use to go to a doctor. Mother is the same.
Has a scab she thinks is going to turn to a wart.


The birds are eating and fighting, Ha! Ha! All shapes
and colors and sizes coming out of our woods
but we don't know what they are. Your Mother hopes
you can send us a kind of book that tells about birds.
There is one the folks called snowbirds, they eat on the ground,
we had the girl sprinkle extra there, but say,
they eat something awful. I sent the girl to town
to buy some more feed, she had to go anyway.


Almost called you on the telephone
but it costs so much to call thought better write.
Say, the funniest thing is happening, one
day we had so many birds and they fight
and get excited at their feed you know
and it's really something to watch and two or three
flew right at us and crashed into our window
and bang, poor little things knocked themselves silly.
They come to after while on the ground and flew away.
And they been doing that. We felt awful
and didn't know what to do but the other day
a lady from our Church drove out to call
and a little bird knocked itself out while she sat
and she bought it in her hands right into the house,
it looked like dead. It had a kind of hat
of feathers sticking up on its head, kind of rose
or pinky color, don't know what it was,
and I petted it and it come to life right there
in her hands and she took it out and it flew. She says
they think the window is the sky on a fair
day, she feeds birds too but hasn't got
so many. She says to hang strips of aluminum foil
in the window so we'll do that. She raved about
our birds. P.S. The book just come in the mail.


Say, that book is sure good, I study
in it every day and enjoy our birds.
Some of them I can't identify
for sure, I guess they're females, the Latin words
I just skip over. Bet you'd never guess
the sparrow I've got here, House Sparrow you wrote,
but I have Fox Sparrows, Song Sparrows, Vesper Sparrows,
Pine Woods and Tree and Chipping and White Throat
and White Crowned Sparrows. I have six Cardinals,
three pairs, they come at early morning and night,
the males at the feeder and on the ground the females.
Juncos, maybe 25, they fight
for the ground, that's what they used to call snowbirds. I miss
the Bluebirds since the weather warmed. Their breast
is the color of a good ripe muskmelon. Tufted Titmouse
is sort of blue with a little tiny crest.
And I have Flicker and Red-Bellied and Red-
Headed Woodpeckers, you would die laughing
to see Red-Bellied, he hangs on with his head
flat on the board, his tail braced up under,
wing out. And Dickcissel and Ruby Crowned Kinglet
and Nuthatch stands on his head and Veery on top
the color of a bird dog and Hermit Thrush with spot
on breast, Blue Jay so funny, he will hop
right on the backs of the other birds to get the grain.
We bought some sunflower seeds just for him.
And Purple Finch I bet you never seen,
color of a watermelon, sits on the rim
of the feeder with his streaky wife, and the squirrels,
you know, they are cute too, they sit tall
and eat with their little hands, they eat bucketfuls.
I pulled my own tooth, it didn't bleed at all.


It's sure a surprise how well Mother is doing,
she forgets her laxative but bowels move fine.
Now that windows are open she says our birds sing
all day. The girl took a Book of Knowledge on loan
from the library and I am reading up
on the habits of birds, did you know some males have three
wives, some migrate some don't. I am going to keep
feeding all spring, maybe summer, you can see
they expect it. Will need thistle seed for Goldfinch and Pine
Siskin next winter. Some folks are going to come see us
from Church, some bird watchers, pretty soon.
They have birds in town but nothing to equal this.

So the world woos its children back for an evening kiss.

-- Mona Van Duyn, former National Poet Laureate © 1982

What zone are you in? 7a?

7a / 7b, on the border.

spring gets going here in late Feb. crocuses and daffodils and the stinky Bradford pear trees are all out by the start of March.

Why I am not a bird watcher: I look at that first photo, and I think I see three (3!) birds. Which one is my imagination, the upper left, the lower center, or the lower right? (Or is one just not a gold finch?)

3! = 6.

Which one is my imagination

there are three: two males and a female.

The female looks awfully yellow to me. Our finches are very chromatically dimorphic, with the females being more of a greyish brown.

We do get some with some reddish hues on their heads and breasts. I don't know if those are of the same species, let alone whether they're male or female.

joel hanes: absolutely amazing, thank you!

Idiot Chaffinch update: still going on, and in three locations. Mr GftNC went to the Garden Centre to get special whitewash for the outside of the windows, but they were out of stock. However, he found something online saying the poster had taped a large picture of a cat's face on the inside of the window looking out, and it had worked. So he printed three copies of the pic, and put one up in the kitchen, and he thinks so far so good. I am not so sure - the RSPB website said it doesn't matter what you do inside the window, it won't make any difference, so we'll have to wait and see. Here's hoping.

Dr. Science, this was marvelous reading. Thanks.

Second Bruce B. Great post, great bird lore especially.

Here in central Maine (zone 4b I believe), the lake isn't clear of ice yet and the grass is just thinking about maybe getting ready to start turning green. But the spring peepers are in full chorus, and that's balm for the soul.

I live across the road from the north end of a lake (about 5 miles long and a mile or so wide), plus there are marshy areas all around here in the spring. It's a sort of valley, and between the bowl-like shape of the landscape and the way sound echoes off the lake, the night chorus can be overwhelming. If you walk right up to one of the ponds, you can't hear a single other thing over the noise of the peepers.

And tonight -- loons.

The ice should be gone in a couple of days. I've kept track of when I could last see ice from my house since I moved here in 1987 -- it was April 12 that year. It has never been in May, and not until 2010 was it ever in March. The sequence is: peepers, ice-off (or -out), green grass, a long pause, green trees, lilacs (late May/early June).

It's a harsh, long winter, but there's nothing like April and May as a reward, perhaps all the more precious because it's more subtle and sparse than the lushness to the south.

But I hope someday to make a trip through the south in the spring, and some other day maybe I'll fulfill a longtime whim and go to England to tour the great gardens (Sissinghurst in particular). The latter probably won't happen until I win the lottery and can hire a driver and a guide, so it's good that I'm more than content with what Maine provides in the meantime. ;-)

But I hope someday to make a trip through the south in the spring

we moved down here from Albany NY, late March, 1997. it was gray and cold and slushy in NY, and PA, and Maryland and northern VA. the kind of weather where you have to kick the ice off your fenders every time you get in the car.

but somewhere near the VA/NC border, at the end of a long stretch of highway lined with long leaf pines, we emerged into a wild technicolor display of dogwoods and pears and redbuds and pansies. i always tell people it was like we somehow drove into Oz.

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