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Posted March 28, 2013 | comments Leave a comment

Roger Barbee: Harbingers of spring

By Roger Barbee

Like many people in the valley, I am waiting for spring.

One night this week while walking the hound, I heard the peepers (or tree frogs) in a grassy low land that sits beyond the big pasture across our road. I was so excited to hear them that when I came back inside, I emailed my friend George the good news. I wanted to keep a bedroom window open to hear them some more, but decided that the night air would later turn too cold, and my bed mate would be unhappy. That was two nights ago, and more cold weather has moved in to silence the harbingers of spring for now. But I know they are there, ready for the next warmer night in which to call for females. A neighbor's tree also tells me it is coming

The large sugar maple in their yard was severely damaged by last year's derecho. The most damaged limbs were removed, but one large trunk of the forked tree was left. For the past several weeks that decision has pleased me because it has produced an array of deep red buds waiting for the correct warmth in order to fully leaf. And for now, it is the only tree around in early budding.

The air and ground above and below our bird feeders near the old cistern turned to a fountain is filled each morning with jays, black-capped chickadees, bluebirds, cardinals, the last of the snowbirds, a variety of sparrows too large to name, and finally, just this week, the robins who splash water from the fountain like an excited child as they bathe in the copper bowl.

The woodpeckers - downy and red-bellied - come, too, for some of the sunflower seed, but prefer to wait for the suet feeders to be filled -- their favorites.

When not eating, the male birds work hard to chase other suitors away from females. Two of our nesting boxes have been claimed by their prior bluebird residents, and soon the robins will build their perfectly round nests in eaves of the corn crib. However, the nesting box near the driveway sits empty, for now, waiting the return of its pair of tree swallows.

This month's heavy, late winter snow of over 12 inches bent the branches of one Lyda rose bush and the entire dwarf butterfly bush. But the week of longer and warmer and sunshine filled days. Both are upright and ready to bloom.

The small army of gold and purple crocuses scattered among the large stones near the screened porch are in full bloom as if racing the other plants. Across the driveway from the cistern fountain, if you look carefully, you will see small green buds on the lilac bush, and under our stark sugar maple the white daisy holds court in its large iron pot. It, too, has early shoots of green, ready to leaf.

But on this Sunday afternoon, after church and a good lunch at Zee's, bits of snow fall from a leaden sky with more forecast for tomorrow. To the west, North Mountain is shrouded in the heavy weather, and the foot of Massanutten can barely be made out in the eastern mist.

It appears that winter is making its last appearance for this season, and the peepers will not sing tonight and maybe not until next week. Yet, soon the cold wind will change to one filled with southern warmth, trees will leaf, birds will reside for the season in hidden nests, vibrant greens will replace dull browns and grays, and windows and doors will be opened to "air out the house."

When the warmth brings spring, get out to a grassy, wet area and sit quietly. If you listen, you may hear the peepers announcing its arrival. When they do, I'll tell George.

Roger Barbee is a retired educator who lives in Edinburg with his wife Mary Ann, four dogs and five cats. Email him at Roger Barbee is a retired educator who lives in Edinburg with his wife Mary Ann, four dogs and five cats. Email him at redhill@shentel.net.

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