By Becky Nelson
March came in like a lion and went out like a gentle lamb. The warmth at the end of the month extended for more than a week, and the tree buds started to swell — perhaps too early. I don’t remember such a long period of warmth in the sixties and seventies for temperatures this early in the season. Signs of spring are all over the farm.
Not only the buds are getting ready to pop. The grass is greening up on the lawn and the cover crops on fields where corn, squash and pumpkins were planted are carpeted with new growth of green. The lilac buds are big and ready to pop some leaves and flowers. Even the apple buds are swelling which is of great concern to me. If the apple buds are too far open if we get very cold weather late in the spring, we may lose some of the crop.
The early warmth has wreaked havoc on the maple season, with relatively few “boiling days” accomplished so far. For the past several years, the season has stretched into April, so we are hopeful that the warmth hasn’t yet triggered the trees to turn the sweet sugars of the sap into bitter enzymes that help the leaves grow. With very cold weather predicted for this weekend, we still hold out hope.
For the past several evenings, a herd of six deer has been coming out the woods into the cover crop on the field in front of the house. They have been grazing on the winter rye that is lush and green and hanging around for about a half hour before moving along to find a bedding site. This is a very important season for deer as the females need to bulk up, soon to have their fawns. The bucks are in great need of nutrients as well, coming out of late fall rut into the deep of winter with limited food supplies.
Birds have been very active at the farm. We watched a crow chasing a hawk over the orchard as we burned brush this week, and probably the very same red-tailed hawk in a beautiful swooping mating dance with a potential mate just a few days prior. I am set to take my feeders in after this cold snap, thinking the resident bears are probably pretty hungry after their winter nap. We have yet to see sign of any bruins in the neighborhood, and I hope to keep it that way.
The feeders have been very busy of late. We have had a lot of chickadees all winter long, and they still seem to be around. The nuthatches are still visiting and about a dozen mourning doves are regulars on the ground beneath the feeders. When I was cooking dinner last night and looking at the feeders behind the house, I was surprised to see a flock of juncos larger than I have ever seen before. The ground was teeming with the little gray-black birds. If I were to make a guess, there must have been more than thirty of the birds. Even the big birds are enjoying the feeders. We had a dozen or so turkeys under a set of feeders a few days ago, and a group of four just yesterday. One bird was even hopping up to grab a few seeds from a low hanging feeder.
The group of four turkeys was comprised of three hens and a tom. The tom would grab a couple of seeds and then display his beautiful array of tail feathers to my delight…it didn’t appear that the girls cared much about the display. One of the hens is a little gal that I have been watching all winter. She hops along on one leg, not bearing any weight on a damaged limb. I’ve been amazed to see her survive the winter, but her disability hasn’t seemed to hold her back from a productive life. I wonder how she lost the use of her leg. A birth defect? A run in with a fox or a coyote? I will never know, but I take her scars and adaptation as a sign of hope. As Easter and springtime approach, the time of renewal and hope is all around us, so much more important this year because of the hardships of the pandemic.
All of us have been damaged in some way over the last year of the pandemic. Some of us have lost loved ones. Others have suffered the virus ourselves. Some still carry the ravages of the virus as long-haulers. Most of us have some small scars of disrupted lives, loneliness or broken desires to see and hold our loved ones. For those of us lucky or careful enough to have avoided disease, the vaccines hold a ray of hope that can help us adapt and overcome and regain a normal routine. Like my turkey friend, we can’t let the virus get the best of us. We need to adapt and not let it hold us back from our productive lives. The vaccines are yet one more harbinger of spring and hope.
Becky Nelson is co-owner of Beaver Pond Farm in Newport, New Hampshire. You can contact her through the farm page on Facebook and Instagram, visit the retail store or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.