Winter solstice

Winter solstice

Monday, March 9, 2015

Oh, Those West Viginia Hills

       This farm is surrounded by hills. No matter which direction you look, there are hills. Some are taller than others, some are more wooded than others but they all have their own characteristics. Last night, as I was getting ready to crawl into bed, I looked out my bedroom window, just like I have done every night for the past 23 years, at the hill to the south of this farm. Now, you would think that in the dark I wouldn't be able to see that hill but I could. Even on the darkest of nights, I can usually see the outline of it. As I looked out last night, I started to think about how dependent I am on that old hill. I know that on a moonlit night in the middle of winter, when I look out and see it clearly, we are in for a cold, clear night. If it looks hazy and fog is draped around it, I know that the night will be more mild. In the early spring, on this hill, the maple buds are pink and red and then turn to many shades of green as the tiny leaves pop out. It's on this hill, that toward the middle of next month, we will hear our first Whippoorwill call out. It's also where we will find our first morel mushrooms of the season. I know right where to look. Spring gobblers will call their hens from this hill. I've found little spotted fawns nestled down in the deep leaf matter. There is a spring, even on the driest days of autumn, that still flows cold and quiet out of this hill. I found my first Jack in the Pulpit there. Pink Mountain Laurel wave their breathtaking blooms in late May up there. It's there that I found a turkey nest one spring. I almost stepped on it but just in the nick of time, saw the creamy, spotted eggs half covered up with leaves. I know that when a summer thunderstorm is brewing and rumbling about, when that hill disappears, we better be running for cover because it's going to be a good one. I've watched the clouds creep over it and I've watched as it begins to peek back out, more times than I can count. I've seen many a rainbow after a summer shower on this hill.  I can show you right where the first Scarlet Maple tree will begin to turn in September. Then in a blink of an eye, it's a riot of color, red, orange, gold, yellow and even pink. And then, before you know it, it will be covered in a blanket of snow. Many times, as I've come out of the barn late at night, it's on this hill that I will hear a coyote howl, raising the hair on the back of my neck. In late January, the Great Horned Owl, will hoot loudly, calling to its mate as they begin to nest. I've heard foxes barking and bobcats screaming on that hill. Red Tail Hawks nest up there and soar down over our farm, looking to see if they can pick up an unsuspecting meal. It's just one hill in the midst of thousands but so important to me. Oh, those West Virginia hills, how majestic and how grand.....

Monday, March 2, 2015

Always Amazed

            How do they know? The thermometer reads fifteen below and yet our little harbinger of spring is belting out his song. Have you ever watched the Song Sparrow sing? They tip their heads back and sing with all their might..."Madge, Madge, Madge...put on the tea kettle, ettle, ettle." They don't mind fifteen below. They know that spring is coming. I suppose it has to do with the lengthening of the days because it sure isn't the temperature that sets these little guys to singing. They are the first sign of spring in our deep hollow of these West Virginia hills. Once you hear the the Song Sparrow, then you know it's time to start checking the buds on the pussy willows. They will be starting to swell. When this snow melts, there will be little purple and yellow crocus peeping their heads up out of their brown quilt of leaves and then before you know it, a whole bank of snowdrops will pop out one morning.
            There are lots of signs that winter is loosening its icy grip. The barn is full of baby goats hopping and playing tag. Their favorite game is playing king of the mountain on the manure pile out in the snowy barn lot. There are also baby bunnies all snuggled down in their mama's soft fur that she has pulled to make them a nice, warm nest. There are little peeps peeking their heads out from underneath Mama Silkie's wing. Another sign is watching the hair just fly in a cloud around our pony, Luke, when he shakes. You can also see the ewes' bellies starting to swell with baby lambs that are anxious to get out and play. Up in the woods, you can hear hen turkeys clucking and on the next ridge, a gobbler answers in return.
         The thermometer might say it's winter but if you look closely, the signs are all there. Warmer days are ahead. Soon we will be hearing the wood frogs quacking and the spring peepers will be singing. The coltsfoot will be blooming on the banks of the road and the daffodils will be nodding their yellow heads to us. And it all starts with a little, brown bird telling us so.