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April 17. 2015 6:22PM

Cheryl Kimball's Nature Talks: Waiting for the leaves and the color green to return


Nature Talks columnist Cheryl Kimball spotted this cardinal during a walk in the woods. (Cheryl Kimball)

APRIL RANKS second only to November as my least favorite month. As the snow recedes and the ground reveals itself in unbearably slow strip-tease-like fashion, suddenly it seems almost like November again. Were it not for the aural changes all around, April would cause me to dive into that depression of the thought of oncoming winter. Yesterday a friend said, “Well, I’d say we survived that winter and at least it can’t get any worse than that, but I said that last year!”

Since my last column, my dog and I have taken several strolls around the farm and through the woods, desperately seeking changes in the landscape. The latest was on a gorgeous sunny day; more bare ground had appeared and the footing was better than even just the day before. But there are still large swaths of fairly deep snow throughout the woods and the snowmobile trail, which makes for great walking throughout the winter, is now a thick ice pack. It’s going to need a lot of days of temperatures warmer than the 50s we’re getting so excited about to melt that down to bare ground.

As spring got closer (has it arrived yet?), I marveled at how the big boulders and glacial erractics seemed to melt the snow from their sides and base first, leaving snow piled on top like thick frosting on a cake. My dog’s “hup rock” that he leaps onto on command (“hup!”) in exchange for a biscuit and a hug is finally completely clear; it was not “huppable” until maybe a week ago.

There is still deep snow in the field, but the cardinal that I spotted flying right into the middle of a big freelance field balsam was clear on the fact that time is a-wasting, and building nests and getting on with the business of raising the next generation that will cost me a fortune in black oil sunflower seed is nigh. But the sight of that red bird against the deep green of the evergreen tree is worth all the seed I can afford.

Every day new birds are arriving at the feeders — the redwing blackbirds and grackles have appeared. The woodpeckers are still packing in suet, which they had better savor since I may have put out the last of the suet cakes until Thanksgiving, which hopefully is a long, slow, perfectly warm two-plus seasons away.

Everyone seems to be talking about woodcock — Dave Anderson and Sean Hurley on NHPR’s “Something Wild,” several friends on Facebook. I will try once again to creep out into the field before dusk a few evenings and see if I can catch them at their spectacular mating dance, but I have never been rewarded for my stealth. We thought to name our farm Timberdoodle Farm, after the nickname for the American woodcock, just because we liked the word, but ultimately chose not to. Probably appropriate we didn’t since the only woodcock we’ve seen in 23 years was one in the middle of the road about two miles away. Luckily we spotted it, and when we stopped the car the bird flew off in the light of our headlights.

As an adult birdwatcher, the woodcock has mostly eluded me but fortunately I’ve seen lots of woodcock (who are related to sandpipers, according to audubon.org, and described on several sites as a shorebird) since as a kid we would watch them from the side window as they went about their business over the stone wall. They entertained my whole family with their funny walk. It would be impossible not to walk funny with that long beak. The chair where my father sat next to the window for the last decade of his life to watch the start of both woodcock and baseball season now sits in my living room. And the woodcock habitat next to my childhood home is now a new neighbor’s driveway. Things change.

The trees as yet are not changing, however. I am sure there are little buds somewhere there, but it feels like forever to me for the leaves to reappear since late last October/early November when the last of them lost their grasp. The leafing out of the deciduous trees is when I really sigh a breath of relief (while swatting the bugs that seem to come simultaneously) that easier weather has finally settled in. Despite the utility company’s desire to cut down every tree branch that grows within 10 inches of the overhead lines (don’t get me wrong, I love my electricity and miss it instantly when the power goes out!), I love driving down country roads draped with green-bedecked limbs and wish the leaves a sorrowful goodbye every fall. It just seems wrong that leaves are out less than half the year.

I once read a quote by the western writer Wallace Stegner that to live out west, “you have to get over the color green; you have to quit associating beauty with lawns and gardens …” Sorry, Mr. Stegner, while I am not a big fan of lawns, I do love gardens and green leaves, and I doubt I am going to get over the color green anytime soon.



Cheryl Kimball is a freelance writer who lives north of Rochester. You can email her at naturetalksck@gmail.com.


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