It’s starting to feel like a real Iowa winter!
Good thing the tractor still runs, because the snow-bladed-off-the-driveway pile is nearing record proportions.
The farm store clerks love to see me coming, because I’m probably there for yet another bag of sunflower seeds.
Chickadees love to see me coming to fill the feeder, too. They boldly sit and wait, impatiently chattering “chick-a-dee-dee-dee.” Translation? “Hurry up!”
Luckily, the chickadees, or red-bellied woodpeckers, or hordes of goldfinches, can be a bit sloppy, so some seed gets spilled. That’s just fine with the cardinals and juncos and tree sparrows, who’d rather eat on the ground anyway. The mourning dove isn’t particular. If the picnic on the ground gets too crowded, the dove is content to flutter up to the feeder on the deck railing. As a bonus, those seeds are already hulled, so she can gobble them down even faster.
Blue jays are the gobbling champions, though. Three or four bossy jays scoop up seed by the mouthful. Do they swallow the morsels whole, or stash them somewhere for a later snack?
The tufted titmouse, with his sleek gray coat, remains more dignified – if that’s an appropriate description for a bird. He waits his turn at the feeder, perhaps too sophisticated to mingle with the crowd of goldfinches or ill-mannered jays. After he’s at last able to munch a few sunflower hearts, he flits over to the heated dog dish for a leisurely drink of warm water.
Just beyond the feeders, the deer have begun to venture ever closer to the house – now that the hunting season is over. One morning, a startled fawn burst out from under the deck, where it apparently had been sleeping against the warm basement foundation.
On another day, I wondered why the deer in our prairie were staring so hard into the nearby ravine. Finally, I saw the focus of their attention: a lone coyote trotted down the valley. The deer weren’t worried – just cautious and observant.
A colder morning found the deer curled up and sleeping late under some cedar trees on a south-facing slope. I pondered what they might find for breakfast under our foot or more of snow from a couple of recent storms.
The neighbor’s field turned out to be their café. When I slogged through the drifts to examine the snow piles where their tracks led, I found they’d scraped down to patches of grass – even a few green blades. Maybe not a delicacy – but probably better than the dry, prickly juniper needles they sometimes had been nibbling.
The deer – and pheasants and turkeys – will need even more fuel to ward off the Arctic cold being forecast by the TV weather guy. Back in the good ol’ days, they could have counted on finding plenty of high-energy corn left in the field after harvest. Most modern combines leave little grain behind, though, so the scavengers must work harder.
For what it’s worth, Iowa’s mythical groundhog predicts that winter may be waning. On the other hand, Pennsylvania’s celebrity marmot, Phil, says six more weeks.
Whatever, I look back at the first full month of a new year with optimism. On January 20, the sun rose on a changing era in which we hope our national polarization begins to diminish.
Is it asking too much for us to unite behind the realization that one thing we share is a dependence on the bounty, beauty, and health of our home, the Earth?