Molly McClaskey, Contributor
This morning my husband and I were remembering winter, how we waited and worried for something to change, to improve during the long months of Covid isolation. Winter also brought fresh, frequent snowfalls that lured us outside and onto our skis, even at -11 degrees. The out of doors, we concluded, had lifted our spirits, what a gift! And now the grass is green; daffodils and grape hyacinths have pushed through cold soil bringing color to the landscape. It feels like we’ve come a long way.
We talked, too, about the projects we tackled that might otherwise have remained untouched were it not for the strange circumstances of staying home. I baked bread and cooked, a lot, and shared sour dough starter and recipes with a friend. Like many others, we lit our wood stove every day, stacked wood, read books and articles (too many about politics), watched movies, and zoomed. And we were in better touch than usual with friends and family living in other places. We got busy hoeing out the mess in the basement, provided read alouds, puppet shows and sing-alongs for our grandchildren, and Gill’s shop roared into action, saws buzzing and drills whining. First, log pieces once stacked out back became five wooden reindeer with tree branches for antlers and red painted noses. These went to friends and family to cheer their moods and porches. A week later Gill came up from the cellar holding Frank Lloyd Wright-style bluebird nesting boxes. These also became gifts, in more ways than one. We hadn’t anticipated the simple joy this giving would bring us as well as those who received them.
Nor had we predicted the sense of community and sheer delight the bird boxes engendered. With each nesting box we attached a few pages of information that summarized the research we gathered about locating, observing, and cleaning them. As spring approached, friends sent texts and called. “We set ours up,” one reported. “Will you help me locate my bird box?” another inquired. Some friends sent photos of their newly installed boxes. One by one from Waltham and Charlotte, to Shelburne, South Starksboro and Tunbridge, friends reported that their boxes were installed at the proper height, on the edge of a field, and facing northeast just as the directions suggested. Then, as if bluebirds had watched the installations, they came. “There’s a bluebird in our truck! I think we left a window open. I hope it won’t hurt a wing,” one couple wrote. A steady stream of communication about bluebird sightings has continued ever since. “Molly,” Gill declared from the office, “everyone is texting about their bluebirds!” He was ecstatic.
An unexpected clan of bluebird enthusiasts evolved, sending one another anecdotal notes of excitement, humor and awe as they watched bluebirds in their yards. Observations arrive every few days. Yesterday one read, “Saw a male standing on the roof of the box this morning, 7:45 a.m.” Another friend shared, “Female warily watching male from a nearby tree while male perches on top of box. Female doesn’t seem impressed, 8:15 a.m.” One friend’s message said,“ 9:00 a.m., female flew inside the box while male proudly posted himself on the roof like a soldier guarding.” On some mornings, texts flit back and forth among us like birds at a feeder. Another day a friend pondered, “Can you believe all of us have bluebirds in our fields? A year ago I had never seen one? Have they been here all along?” It made me wonder, would this group of friends have had the time and interest to watch and communicate about the life cycle of bluebirds if not for this unhurried space in our lives, if not for being at home in the daylight hours? This morning, while Gill drank his coffee and I my tea, we passed the binoculars back and forth watching a male bluebird stake a claim on our nesting box. Watching bluebirds with friends is an unexpected gift born of this extraordinary year in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Just days ago it seemed like a page turned. I found more green shoots poking through the leaf litter where I planted bulbs last fall, and the same pair of bluebirds keeps checking the box. I think they’re moving in. From winter’s frigid hold came spring and the smell of mud, wet fur and dirty paws. Barely noticeable delicate gray-green buds have emerged, softening stark, dark branches. There are chartreuse patches of new growth in the gardens and pale pink, feathery buds on maple tree crowns. Soon they will burst forth, becoming lush leaves in deep showy shades of green and burgundy. I am reveling in the arrival of this new palette. Would we notice this subtle unfurling if not for the quiet cold that came before it, if not for this morning ritual, sitting in our chairs where we are still and watching? This too, this time to notice the unwrapping of a season, is a gift.
Spring’s approach is subtle, but this year it also brings boldness, the certainty of enough vaccine for everyone older than 16 in our state to get immunized. Bolder still is the hope and real possibility of broad protection from the spread of COVID-19 in Vermont and across the country. As the land awakens so too are we; bravely reaching out, dipping our toes in the wet grass and welcome, warm air. Ahead of us is the promise of being with our family and friends, of hugging and being close together. I will wrap my arms around our children and grandchildren and probably cry for the happiness and relief of it, the recognition of how much I have missed this tender touch and togetherness. We will cook and eat side by side, and the grandkids will hunt for eggs, play in their fort, and soon spend nights here the way they used to. I am humming with anticipation, appreciative of the resilience that seemed to take our hands and pull us forward, that brought this fresh season and made us grateful for the gifts we discovered this year, of all years, right here in our midst, in unusual places, like colored eggs in a stonewall.