Just Before a January Winter Morning

Off to the east, there is a wedge of sky that holds soft blue, creamy white, and that mellow, cottony, winter pink of sunrise. Outlined by roof edges and bare-limbed trees, the space is the first area in which to see the new day.

To hear the new day, you must be willing to brave the still-cold air and sit outside wrapped in blankets and dark clothing so as to blend in with the tangled fence row. There, ever-so-slight peeps of cardinals and sparrows can be heard if we holds our breathe. Life seems suspended in time.

As the light increases in the wedge of sky, more sounds join as feathered creatures wake to empty stomachs and the need for quick energy. Moving inside, we give way to their need to come out of hiding. While we enjoy hot coffee, they enjoy seeds and suet.

They have a hierarchy or pecking order for the first meal. Juncos and cardinals are first and eat off the ground under the feeder. With charcoal-grey coats, the juncos blend in well and, surprisingly, so do the red cardinals. Mourning doves come in under cover of pre-dawn, wary of a certain cooper’s hawk which makes a regular fly-through on frigid mornings. He needs quick energy, too. A dozen gray doves keep to flower bed edges, ready to leap for cover if the hawk’s large, dark shadow appears.

White-throated sparrows, chestnut-capped chipping sparrows, brown stickpin song sparrows, and the ever-present house sparrows are next to show up. They too prefer the ground, although the crowds of house sparrows will inundate the feeder and shuffle seeds off the edge.

As sunlight streams across the fence into the expanse between trees and feeder, a large woodpecker swoops in. Although his cap is red, he is a red-bellied woodpecker. He is keen for the peanuts mixed in with the seeds. He takes his turn, and as he flies off to eat in the safety of a tree, his mate takes her turn.

Back on the suet feeder, downy woodpeckers take turns. They don’t mind the Carolina wren eating on the other side of the wire cage that holds the suet block. When it is this cold out, they are tolerant of each other’s presence. Perhaps they have a community sense of survival. Inside, we have a family sense of survival, beginning with our own breakfast.

One week later, the same wedge of sky is a brilliant, spring-like pink with thin, yellow shafts of sunlight. To see and hear this day, one could hardly imagine that it is still January. Birds, too, feel the warmer air moving in for the first time since November. Songs replace squeaks of hunger. The day will prove to be another yo-yo turn of weather events. Sixty degrees is not hot oatmeal weather.

Rain is in the mix. Keeping birds and humans alike holed up under cover, high winds sweep in over the land. Turbulent air moves over our valley and the rest of Ohio, bringing an aching for the real warmth of spring.

Another few days and the cold returns. Icy conditions bring much activity to a standstill. But the birds still need to feed. Slip-sliding over the feeder roof, bigger ones flutter into piled up seeds. On the ground, dozens mill about, scratching up seeds caught in the icy mix. Their small faces look as forlorn as we feel. It’s back to hot oatmeal and survival.

Each morning we look to the wedge of sky, wondering what it will hold as the day begins. Soft, muted tones or bold, bright light? Will there be sounds of hunger or songs of delight? Only January knows.

  • Published on Feb 2, 2017
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