The very idea of a bird is a symbol and a suggestion to the poet … his frame charged with buoyancy and his heart with song.

~John Burroughs

A few nights ago, I noticed that my cat was spending a bit more time than usual at my bedroom window. She seemed intent on something out there, something moving about in the shadows, as evidenced by a single tiny cry, a brief mammalian protest.

Whatever it was probably saw that white creature staring out at it through the window and wasn’t amused. In any case, Muffin finally hopped down and took up
her usual spot at the foot of my bed, and that was the end of that.

When I got up a few hours later and opened the door to check the temperature, I was greeted by the overpowering scent of Eau de Skunk and knew what the cat had been so interested in. I was tempted to think that this was a sure harbinger of spring when I remembered that our common striped skunks don’t hibernate like
other furred creatures do. They enter into a state called torpor where their metabolism slows down. But if they happen to wake up hungry at any point, out
they go from their cozy dens to search for food. It’s not breeding time yet, so they’re still in their winter bunkers. That’ll change as the weather warms and the
females set up housekeeping elsewhere.

How easy it is to forget that here, in this often cold gray world, we are not the only ones who need safe, warm, and dry places in which to wait the winter out. Of all the wild creatures I see here during the warm months, I often wonder how or where they keep themselves from December to March. Chipmunks go far down into their tunnels where they carve out tiny dens for themselves, while gray squirrels curl up in the bottom of their deep leafy nests in trees. Wild turkeys also spend the worst of it up in the trees, where they bury their heads inside their dense feathers and stay perfectly still so as not to disturb the layer of warm air that surrounds them.

In the most extreme weather, the smaller birds huddle in the densest niches of pine trees and other evergreens. But when hunger threatens, nothing stops them from seeking out the nearest feeding station where they eat non-stop in order to be able to generate enough heat to survive. The calories they consume are used up instantly, so it’s a constant battle during the daylight hours to take in enough to tide them over through the night until the next day. Sadly, no matter how hard
some keep at it, it is sometimes not enough.

One day last week, I observed a small hawk perched in a shrub across the street from where I live. Such shrubs typically house flocks of house sparrows, and I have no doubt that the hawk was on the hunt. It hopped to another nearby shrub before flying off, and I wondered if the people who live there happened to glance outside at that most opportune moment to see the wondrous thing taking place right outside their window.

It won’t be long now before I hear the distinct shift in the tone of the bird songs, from plaintive short tweets to longer more melodious notes. It’s how they share
their relief and their joy that the worst is, once again, almost over for us all.

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