April 7, 2013

North Cairn: Spring's just waiting in the wings

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.

(Continued on page 2)

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