I have been thinking small this past week.  At this time of the year, I am convinced it is wise to do so.  Complex subjects certainly have their place in the course of human musings but when winter is waning and spring is seriously considering making an appearance, I have found it is best to stick with the small things.  It is better not to get one's hopes up while the north wind can still attack as quickly as a band of fringe militants and snow is always a potential guest at the banquet feast of sprouting foliage.

     Though these thoughts have been with me all week, they truly came to the forefront early Saturday morning as my dog, Truffles, and I stood next to each other on the porch scanning the dark horizon.  My eyes caught sight of the "fingernail" moon just above the tree line.  The bright shard arc at the edge of the shadowy round form was stunning.  To my surprise, when I looked down at Truffles, I found that she also was looking at the moon.  I wondered what could possibly be going through her mind.  I suspected some ancient urge toward a lunar howl.  She finally turned her gaze to me and I swear, in that look, I saw her thoughts.  It was a question. "What's he thinking about when he looks up there?"  There is absolutely nothing like sharing a moment of inter-species abstruseness.  I leaned down and patted her head.  She licked my hand.  A small thing.

     I have been paying close attention to the change in behavior of our animals.  With most nights being warmer, the dogs tend to spend more and more time outside investigating the darkened corners of the property.  I know there are raccoons out and about.  Their squabbles fill the night air with lingering yelps of applied comeuppances.  Occasionally an Opossum will attempt to traverse the yard, wobbling its way along to grub away at some juicy morsel below the feeders.   If the dogs see the Opossum, they immediately pounce on it only to discover their play frustratingly shortened by the effective ruse of lifelessness.  Their attention soon turns elsewhere.

     Coyotes howl in the field to the west.  Their howls increase to an invigorating crescendo frenzy as they move across open ground toward the object of a particular night's sport.  The Barred Owls sing forth with their patented song of a culinary question ("Who-cooks-for-you? Who-cooks-for-you-all?") interspersed with surprising barks that enlarge into a rapidity of sound best described as "jungle-like."

     I watch as the dogs take note of the sounds, lift their noses to the air for identifying scents, and inevitably make their way back into the house for shorter and shorter intervals of naps.  The Opossum takes advantage of these naps to "revive" itself and seek less canine-filled terrain.

     Our two cats, Lilly and Quincy, now want to spend the evening hours outside.  Lilly spreads herself out on the hutch while Quincy positions himself on my wife's chair.  Both stare out into the darkness for hours at a time, obviously seeing clearly what is happening in the shadowed areas.  I can only suspect what is out there and what is going on.  Watching them gives me no information, for they offer no clues beyond an occasional slight twitch of an ear.  They remind me of Zen monks staring into the unknown and revealing nothing of what they see.  Lilly, in fact, somewhat resembles in bulk the Buddha himself.

     Neither cat spends the whole night outside.  Their "watch" ends at 3:30 AM at which time one or the other will begin to scratch on the window screen next to my bed.  It is a line of communication they have opened with me since we all moved here.  I know very, very little about our cats but I definitely know when they want to come in the house.  I sleepily arouse myself as close to consciousness as possible, weave my way through an array of strewn dog toys, and open the door for them.  They walk in slowly with the air of Middle Eastern sultans, not even offering a nod of appreciation for my effort.  I am used to it.  It is a small thing.

     And I yearn for color.  It is that simple.  I hunger for it.  This is brought to my attention most clearly when driving on Corbett Road and passing the cemetery.  My eyes are drawn to the sun-faded artificial flowers on the graves. It is that bad.

     A few things help.  The Bluets are back up after the snow and ice of last weekend.  An occasional Dandelion adds a measure of yellow to the yard's sparse landscape.  The Wild Crocus in front of the porch has survived two incidents of canine nibbling and wintry havoc to produce a single but impressive blue bloom with golden stamen.

     Late in the afternoon, I take drives along Lewis and Box Roads where the trees stand tall, aged relics of the Cross Timber Forest that once broke the monotony of the tallgrass prairies in this area.  With the sun behind them, the tallest trees reveal the rich reddish-brown of new limb growth as if reaching for the very heights of the heavens themselves.  The new limbs are almost prism-like in their effect on the late afternoon light.  The light is diffused between their stems into a haze of yellow and gold.  I think such a sight must have impressed even the early adventurers who long ago came through this way complaining of the almost impenetrable "iron forest."

     The birds are also coming into color.  The American Goldfinches are showing differing shades of yellow.  These small 5" birds regain their full breeding plumage later in the year than many other songbirds.  Now they are but "trying on yellow" to see if it fits.  Late in the summer, the males will possess all the dandified hues necessary to attract the fickle females who are given to such a means of choice.  Even though their colors are not now nearly as bright as they will be, by their very presence of several hundred at a time at the feeders, it is more than enough to brighten the bleak background of winter and encourage the heart of the observer.

     Among them are the Pine Siskins and House Finches.  The forner are about the same size as the goldfinches, streaked and fairly bland of appearance except in that the last couple of weeks strips of yellow have begun to appear on their wings as if they were cadets who had finally earned their first stripes.  The male House Finches (6") are more aggressively coming into their appropriate tincture.  The pale red of winter is giving way to larger areas of brighter red on breast and head with several now even possessing an extremely bright dash of it on their backs where their wings come together.  The changes are slow in coming and small but make all the difference in the world.

     A single Eastern Phoebe has arrived.  He no longer possesses the pale yellow wash that was there in the fall.  He is now spending his time scouting good areas for nest building.  Last year there were two sets of Phoebes that hatched broods here.  We were awash with Phoebes for a few weeks last summer.

     He has checked out the doorsill of the garage apartment several times (a successful nest was built there last year).  Last week, I noticed him late one afternoon inspecting our south-facing kitchen windows.  I like this possibility the best.  Two years ago a pair built a nest on the southwest corner of the kitchen windowsills.  I grew quite fond of having my morning coffee at the breakfast table while listening to the scurrying back and forth of tireless adults and the demanding cheeps of their nestlings.  I will however aver to his final choice in the matter.

     It goes without saying that the world in which we all find ourselves is a very, very complex place where we spend most of our time doing little more than choosing sides.  From time to time, it is certainly necessary for us to give ourselves mentally and physically to that complexity.  But not at this moment.  This is not the time for such complex reflection, not when the line separating the fierce frigidity of winter and the fragile flourish of spring is daily blurring.  Now is the time for keeping our eyes open and letting nothing escape our attention.  It is a small thing to do.
March 10, 2002
<< back to homepage
<< to Phil's birding page
<< more EOER stories
"The true, strong, and sound mind is the mind
that can embrace equally great things and small."
James Boswell, "Life of Johnson"
Edge of the Earth Rd. Journal
(c) Copyrighted by Phil Floyd 2002