The mid-spring sunshine illuminates the naked tree in the front yard tracing its shadow on the road that is finally clear of snow. I am raking the leaves that got left littering the lawn last summer when I hadn’t the strength or the time to clear them away. Now they need to go; unmulched they form wet mats that will kill the grass before they can break down.
The air is warm, no hint of the frost that has nipped the tips of emerging daffodils and slowed the thawing of the rivers. Now, with temperatures reaching normal, the rivers are flowing freely, threatening floods and terrifying the privileged, who dare to live on their banks. It’s an empty threat this year. There is no frost in the ground; as soon as the snow leaves the water slips into the private crevasses of the earth. It is ‘instant dry’, so dry that I can kneel on the ground without protection for my knees as I pull out runaway grasses that have crossed the barrier of air I created with my sharp garden edges.
In the sun-sweetened back garden near the house, the plants have leaped from the earth with enthusiastic eagerness. The fernleaf peonies are up a good eight inches, showing brazen red buds already. There are buds, too, on the daffodils and incipient ones on some of the early tulips. As soon as I remove the debris from last year, the plants peep out from their hiding places under the soil.
The little red squirrel is a whirlwind of activity. It has found something of interest to nibble on the underside of a maple branch: maple syrup that seeps from the trees as the sap begins to flow in the warming sun. Squirrels like to sup on bits of sweetness. They will even scratch the tree to release the sap. At this time of year, as winter stores are depleted, the squirrels’ diets are quite varied as they scrounge for what they can find: caterpillars, fungus, moths, grubs, the inner bark of trees – I have even seen the gray squirrel eat a bird. When summer brings forth more sweet stuff, all the squirrels are thrilled to include apples and rose hips and strawberries as treats to their more mundane fare.
The chickadees that were investigating the wren’s house have decided to take up residence. I haven’t the heart to disturb them. Maybe they will be gone by the time the wrens decide to move in this year. Really, though, the chickadees deserve more respect for sticking it out all winter. Chickadees, like hummingbirds, can lower their body temperature and enter a state of torpor, a slowing of their metabolism that allows them to survive very cold weather. While they prefer insects and grubs in summer, they will exist on seeds and nuts in the cold months and love the black oil sunflower seeds that give them energy. They also cache food, hiding it in unlikely places such as knot holes, and in bark and dead leaves and in clusters of evergreen needles.
I hope the new family home will be big enough for their large family of six to eight little nestlings that the parents will quietly tend together.
In the plant world, this is an exciting time in the garden here in Manitoba with profound changes every day. As the thermometer soars to double digits, everything will go into fast forward to make up for the slow start this spring. We will almsot be able to see the small plants emerge and unfurl, reaching for the sun to nourish their still cool roots.
Late springs such as this are part of the magic in Manitoba; the sudden cessation of the cold, the return to warm sunny days, the fattening of buds on trees and early flowers — everything seems to happen at once. Forsythia will bloom with the daffodils and tulips will compete with the roses.
There is a cacophony of colour and a frenzy of freshness. As Mr. Tomato says, “If you listen carefully on a still night, you can hear the buds breaking.” While my ears aren’t quite that keen, I can see the changes and almost feel a thrumming under my feet as the world wakes up from its long sleep.