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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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From My Window

Issue Date: March 10, 2021

Waiting for the Cranes

By Jane Thibodeau Martin,




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I have heard several funny names for the period of weather we are currently experiencing. Some include "False Spring," "Ice on Mud Spring," "Not Really Spring" "Spring of Deception," and "Fool's Spring." And all of these apply. We will doubtlessly have another bout or two of snow and deep cold, but clearly we are entering the tail end of winter.

As I stood outside surveying the ice on Hank Lake, I suddenly knew our Sandhill cranes were on their way. They might not arrive for another couple of days or weeks, but surely as the world turns, I know that someday soon I am going to hear the incredible cacophony of the first pair, walking around on the ice and assessing homebuilding options. The ruckus is easy to hear even in the house with music on, and it's as much fun to wait on this certain signal of spring as it is to anticipate the first snowfall of winter. "You never know the hour or the day, so stay awake and watch." What I can say is somehow, in my bones, I know crane arrival is imminent.

The sound cranes make is hard to describe to someone who has never heard it. One way to think of it is as the polar opposite to the birdsong that enchants most of us. It's not the lovely trills of Meadowlarks or the bright and cheerful song of the cardinals, evoking the world's most beautiful music. It's more like the heaviest of heavy metal music, discordant, jarring, and edgy; it's also incredibly loud. I love it just as much as I love the sound of the songbirds. It is possible to like symphony music and also enjoy classic country.

While I await the arrival of the spectacular cranes, the squirrels had already announced the season of love. Female gray squirrels have a 44 day gestation period, and the babies arrive in late March and early April. We have both gray (and the black color morph) and red squirrels. There is bickering, both within and across the two species, on an ongoing basis, with the "bird" feeder being the epicenter of territorial quarrels throughout the winter.

But the fighting has drastically escalated with the arrival of mating time, with long "chase scenes" of groups of two to three or more squirrels running full speed across the top of the snow. Sometimes these groups spiral up and down tree trunks during heated disputes. Yesterday I watched one of the especially truculent red squirrels attack a gray squirrel at least twice its size when the gray got too close to the claimed personal territory of the red squirrel, our discarded Christmas tree. The gray squirrel turned tail and fled, chased by its tiny tormenter.

While all of these battles are being waged, with angry chatters and squirrel barks accompanied by aggressive tail jerks, two of our house cats sit side by side on a window ledge, watching raptly. During major squabbles, they both lean toward the window, with their own tails twitching with pent-up frustration. This is "cat TV," a drama they can't resist watching.

This morning Wolfgang the dog went berserk, well beyond his objections to squirrels in the exclusion zone. Mike looked out the window and spotted a male pheasant making its way to the south along the frozen edge of the lake. I know some pheasants used to be (maybe still are?) planted for hunters, but it seems we have a naturally reproducing population here as I often spot the males along the roads year-round. I always believed these were plants that evaded hunters, but then saw a small flock of hens in a field in early winter a year ago. The hens are "incognito" colored and so escaped my notice much longer. This was the first time I've seen a pheasant on our land and I welcome it. Once "True spring" arrives, these visitors will evade our notice, (and Wolfgang's,) because the lush understory will hide the comings and goings of the interesting neighbors.

And although it is still a bit early, I will start watching for the first hint of the pussy willows coming to life. I have learned that the shrubs prefer standing in water before they rouse themselves from their winter dormancy, so the sound of running water under the creek ice will cue me to start looking. Pussy willows don't need all the snow and ice to be gone, but they like "wet feet." When I went out and found pussy willows to bring home as a child, picking them always involved getting my feet wet, too. I read a book on which native plants to encourage to assist local wildlife, and was surprised to see pussy willows listed. They are food for caterpillars " thousands of which are needed for adult chickadees to raise their offspring. Caterpillars are nutrient rich and their larger size helps fill up those bottomless pit kids. Fewer caterpillars means fewer chickadee (and other bird) offspring surviving to fledging, so don't be too quick to cut back or remove shrubs like pussy willows.

My guess is the minute I hit "send" to submit this column the cranes will arrive. But whether it is soon or if I have to wait for a few weeks, I have the anticipation I feel when I have tickets to an upcoming concert. I just don't know when the show will start.

BOOKS: Currently reading the non-fiction best seller "Wild" by Cheryl Strayed. A woman with lots of issues decides to hike most of the Pacific Crest Trail from California to Washington - alone. A really brave woman with a little crazy mixed in. It is a little rough around the edges " be forewarned. Books I just finished and recommend: "Havana" a good brief history of this historic city in Cuba, a place that is on my bucket list, by Mark Kurlansky. Also "No Time Like the Future" an autobiography by Michael J. Fox. Not the optimistic man diagnosed with Parkinson's at age 29 we all know; instead this more recent book cover says "An Optimist Considers Mortality." Michael is in his late 50's now. A relatively brief and easy read, but lots of deep thinking between the covers.

You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: JanieTMartin@gmail.com.


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