Saturday, March 7, 2009

Back on the water

The Heron, our beloved canoe, is back on the water. It was sunny and 75 degrees in Bloomington today, and in spite of the gusty wind it seemed the perfect day to return to the lake after the long winter. It was a little difficult to get the canoe in the water because the sandy shore was so soft and wet, but soon we were out paddling, sticking close to shore because of the wind.

The trees are still bare, and the woods looks brown and bleak. Up close, you can see buds on the trees and the promise of grass on the ground. We didn't see many birds, although we could hear a few singing back in the woods. The only birds we could watch were the turkey vultures circling over the water. A lot of people dislike turkey vultures. They're not really beautiful by our standards, and they have a job to do that we'd rather not think too much about.

In spite of all that, I really like to watch them. They soar on the wind, gaining lift from the warm updrafts, and rarely flap their wings. They also fly low to the ground because they locate carrion by smell. They weigh about 4 lbs., (about half what an eagle weighs), and have a wingspan of 67-70 inches. They hold their wings in a distinctive V-shape, or dihedral, and you can see the white flight feathers underneath as they soar overhead. We watched about 20 of them circle overhead, and perch in the trees. We guessed that, as the sun went down, they might be gathering at a roosting site.

We canoed along the edge of the lake for awhile, sometimes fighting with the wind and sometimes suddenly blown sideways. Quite a bit of water splashed into the canoe, but the camera stayed dry in the dry bag my mom made for me out of a piece of oilcloth. It felt so good to be back on the water, to be out exploring together. Work is necessary and satisfying, and fulfilling on many levels. But for that lift of the heart, that urge to laugh as the wind musses your hair -- there's nothing like a lake, a canoe, and your own true love.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Counting the signs of spring

It's cold. It's surprising how cold it is, actually. After a recent warm-up, I assumed we were done with all that shivering and piling on the thick coats and hats. I stacked the new seed catalogs on the table and placed an order for heirloom calendula and zinnias. But the cold returned, and it's been about 20 degrees in Bloomington and in the teens in Chicago.

Nevertheless, I think I see some signs of spring in southern Indiana. Here is a quick list:

1. TULIPS! coming up in the front flower bed. They're about 2 inches high.
2. Great blue heron hanging around the creek near our house. This is very unusual. I wonder if he got lost on the way to Lake Monroe?
3. Robins have been seen for the past couple of weeks in Bloomington, and they finally showed up in our yard.
4. Red-winged blackbirds are back.
5. Birdsong in the morning. Lots of it. Carolina wrens will sing all winter, but they've been joined by cardinals, titmice, and others.
6. The cardinals (I counted 7 pairs on Sunday) are chasing each other all over the yard. The males are getting pretty fiesty.
7. Twice I've seen birds checking out the nearest birdhouse in our yard. I'm not sure what the first bird was, but the 2nd was definitely a chickadee.

Note that this list does not include warmer weather. And I forgot to check for buds on the trees. I hope to update this list soon!