The sound of returning birds has begun to thread through the woods and landscape, and I am watching for signs of nests.
The only one I’m sure of is a bowl nest that has turned into a ladle-like structure in the supports near the shed roof. That dwelling was occupied when I moved into the cabin last summer and seemed deserted shortly after the movers carted in load after load of my possessions. I have only very limited hopes that the cup of grass and twigs will be graced with eggs again or inhabited this year, because there is too much activity — my comings and goings with books and briefcases and groceries, and the dog rolling in hills of snow or mounds of dust, depending on the whims of the early spring weather.
Still, spring has come to the woods, though it is mechanical noise more than bird song that communicates the fact. I have listened to more chain saws during the past week than I heard all last summer, though that might be better explained as my oblivion as a new resident trying to get my bearings here than as the sound of silence in the hemlocks.
But in the middle of the week, I so often had listened to the rev — some would say frenzy — of the chain saws up and down the road that I began to think about buying one myself. I actually have an electric chain saw, but any serious woodsman knows those aren’t serious saws. You need one that runs on fuel, so you can stow it in the back of the pickup and be ready with your stock of traveling tools — ax, nail gun, a box of hand tools, hand saw, rope and the like — at a moment’s notice.
I would be using a gas-powered chain saw to clean up around the property and carve fallen limbs into usable firewood for next year. Realizing one morning as I readied for work that this was my principal intention for a chain saw, it occurred to me that I might have passed an important milestone in becoming a Mainer, or at least a rural dweller — because, without thought, I was already planning for next winter, though the last had barely finished.
I have lived in many rural areas in my life, and I can distinguish real instincts for survival from, let’s say, weekend camping or having a cottage on the beach. Real backwoods dwellers see everything nature discards as a potential gift to the humans in the area — whether the bounty comes as wild asparagus, fiddleheads uncurling, a deer or wild turkey inadvertently sideswiped by a speeding car, or a cord of firewood toppled by winter storms and requiring only cleanup, cutting and stacking to restock the backyard pile.
I have found myself almost physically pulled to the rocky coast these last several days, when there was sun and warmth enough to mean a ski jacket, gloves and a balaclava might be protection enough from the wind off the water.
I keep imagining the summer, you see, myself with the dog, swimming in our favorite cove, her old grizzled face grinning with joy, her happiness trumpeted into the lily pads, the sound of her outdoor ecstasy sputtering through her snout like the snort from a whale’s blowhole.
I’m not so much winter-weary anymore as I am dreaming of the glut of summer’s simple gladness.
It will come with a symphony of sound behind it, I hope, the tunes of birds from twilight to twilight — the mockingbird trilling well after dusk, to dawn’s chaotic chorus, the several species worked up as though sunrise had never occurred to them before as a new beginning.
I’ve been watching the hawks asserting themselves, riding the thermals, carried aloft with the currents, and have felt my own heart lighten and strengthen as the raptors carve pathways like the sign of infinity etched in the apex of the day.
And now, as the season seeps into the woods, I wait like a disciple for the nighthawks near dark, the owls soundlessly soaring past the house. Soon enough, my world will be crowded with the creatures with wings.
My calendar is scribbled full of migrations unimportant to most people: the return of the robin, a woodcock watch, a herring run, an owl prowl.
Even ants. Ever.
My companions always are here: the deer drifting like specters through the closing dark, an errant moth sputtering at the lamplight, a stink bug hitching a ride on some old kindling, the fisher (or fox?) screaming at a moment once described as “the dark night of the soul.”
Only now, with the light lingering longer and the day extending itself in a protracted dusk, I sense them more, see them frequently, follow their antics and their serious business of staying alive. We aren’t the only ones running around, bustling in our own self-interest, this matter of making it through the day.
Whole nations, as the writer Henry Beston described them, whirl with us. The truth is we are never alone.
North Cairn can be contacted at 791-6325 or at: