Herald of Spring

The day before our latest storm was set to wallop us, I walked the dog. I expected it to be a relatively mild day, as it often is just before a major storm.

Dirty mountains of snow piled up by the roadside by various Good Samaritans were being melted into ornate caverns of ice, with stalactites and flowstone. The snow gets peppered with the grit that the road works trucks spread, which gets splashed and plowed to the side and onto the snowbanks.

Then, when the sun comes out, the grit absorbs heat and melts the snow into these elaborate ice sculptures. They’re pretty, in a sort of muddy, gritty way.

Our street is not so busy that you can’t walk a dog on a leash easily. We walk facing traffic (nonexistent usually), veering into the lane a little because the shoulders are buried in snow.

When vehicles approach, we move to the other lane after ascertaining that no one’s coming from the opposite direction. It wouldn’t work on a busy road.

When necessary, we step off onto the snowy shoulder, and I hold Bandit on a short leash while the momentarily busy traffic subsides. Our dog lives for this daily walk. If afternoon comes around and he hasn’t been on his (apparently contractually guaranteed) walk, he won’t let us alone until we oblige.

On the rare day when no walk occurs, he sulks for the rest of the evening. As a hunting pack animal, it must be in his genes to travel daily.

On this day, I witnessed what has become my annual sign that spring is arriving, despite all the snow. A familiar trilling birdsong rang out from a wetland. I could see the songster, perched high in a bare cottonwood tree.

I was once told by a birder that the song is “Kong-aree!!!,” repeated at intervals. It was a redwinged blackbird. (The same birder told me that robins are saying, “Cheery-up! Cheeralee!” It helps to know these things.) A genuine birder informed me that she heard the species singing down at Ouray National Wildlife Refuge days earlier.

As spring approaches, redwing males climb high and sing loud to attract a mate. I’m always glad to hear them start tuning up.

On walking back past the same area, I heard another male chime in from nearby. If Bandit heard the song as well, he didn’t show it.

Their prospects of enticing a female to raise a brood in this snow-blanketed landscape didn’t seem good. But year after year, this species seems to make it work. Maybe the lack of competition from other species this early in the year helps.

They are fierce defenders of their nests. I was once “chased,” in a comical, slow-motion sort of way, by a redwing male that kept swooping VERY close to my head until I had departed and left his space. I admire that kind of boldness on the part of a dinky little bird.

Though I am not a real birder, I approve of birds in the abstract. When they call attention to themselves by singing or displaying, I enjoy them for a minute.

I recognized decades ago one truth about birds; by being so visible and so audible, beautiful and melodious, birds connect many, many people to nature. I think that birds create more conservationists than anything else in the natural world.

It just didn’t happen to me that way.