Early Spring?

My Scots Broom is blooming giving me hope…and activating my allergies.  I’ll take the allergies.  Spring is right around the corner…a blind corner.  Approach with caution! I don’t know what might be waiting for me on the other side, what cruel trick might be played by Mother Nature.  I don’t care, I have a wonderful and sunny seventy-degree day waiting for me in my little piece of heaven. 

Crocus and daffodils are waking from their winter nap, pushing toward the sun and the red tail hawks that circle above.  Two mating pairs climb in the thermals, whistling to each other in a language only they understand.  Are they as happy as I am to feel the warm sun? 

These are sure signs of spring as are the gold and purple finches putting on their spring colors.  Nests are being built awaiting tiny eggs that will help continue the species. Their yearly mating ritual has begun. Mother Nature renewing herself despite all of our efforts to destroy her.

It has been a hard winter…in a lifetime of hard winters, I guess.  I planned to do much.  Unless I am mistaken, I have accomplished nothing except staying clear of Covid and getting my vaccinations.  Isolation has not helped my melancholia.  When I did have a flush of adrenaline my sciatica grabbed, flushing my rush down the toilet, adding more fuel to my winter depression.

I am reminding myself of my Grandmother.  My Nannie would disappear into the depths of depression as the days shortened, robbing her of available sunlight and keeping her from the outdoors she loved.  The short, cold winter days left her peering out of her window at the world.  She described her malaise as “feeling a bit blue.”

Her rock garden lay darkened and wilted, as dark as I’m sure her thoughts were, and had her thumbing through her seed catalogues and the almanac.  I no longer wonder about her effort to be functional.  I wonder why I even get out of bed somedays. Functionality is sometimes evasive. I plod on doing nothing.

Not today, or even yesterday…or the day before.  Three days in a row in late February to die for as I write this.  Deep blue, cloudless skies.  After crisp mornings, sunny days and seventy degrees.  I went forth and was productive.   

It is gray this morning, with impending rain forecast for the next few days. The price you pay for three days of celebration. The price is much like the hangover you might expect from too many shots of Jack Daniels as your merrymaking runs off the rails. I was able to walk despite my metaphorical hangover and late arriving rain. As I looked into the gray sky a red tail flew by and lit in a nearby tree making me smile.

I have made a small dent in my yard work, but every trek begins with a step…or with the swing of a machete.  It has left me with hope to battle my depressing hangover. Hope that I might bloom with the spring flowers.

A roadside that I wish was mine. https://www.diynetwork.com/

My bride likened my grandmother to the spring flowers.  Late in her life we wondered if she would survive the winter and then like the daffodils or crocus, she would burst from her depression as they burst from the ground.  I hope I am like my grandmother although I wonder what flower I might be.  I’m sure the flower that is me has thorns and few blooms.

Here in the foothills of the Blue Ridge we have bipolar seasons.  Short fall seasons, some years summer jumping straight into winter.  On the other side of the equinox, our brief springs are dotted with spring flowers, sometimes pushing out of March sleet and two-inch snowstorms.   Many days we have all four seasons rolled into a twenty-four-hour period.  Polar wear in the morning, flip flops and tank tops in the afternoon.

Crocus | LoveToKnow

The breezes of April will quickly roar into the simmering heat and humidity, thunderstorms and tornadoes, yellow jackets, and clouds of mosquitoes.  Something to gripe about other than the cold winds of winter.  I’ll take the heat because with it comes those long days of sunshine. No more seed catalogues, actual seeds going into the ground. Sunflowers reaching for the sun.

So, I’ll cherish these three perfect days of early spring.  There are more crystal blue skies coming…sandwiched between the gray, cool, wet skies of the fading winter and the anvil topped thunderheads to come.  Such is life, I guess.  I will long for the perfect days of an early spring and celebrate when they arrive.

Featured image from https://www.thelocal.de/20190222/early-spring-to-continue-in-germany-over-weekend/

Don Miller’s authors page https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR2JKFOIkUMkr7DDTIGejQCNCoz-GdyUSmvDXYWfNYk8mV4O3sVbxPB8JFY

If History Repeats…Another Spring Day in January

If history repeats itself, we are in for our coldest days of winter yet…of course, this global climate change “thingy” might have erased any previous history.  Still, I have faith.  I predict our coldest days will occur on or around February the Third.

Why am I so sure?  Since the early Seventies, I have kept a close watch on the weather of late winter.  Spring sport’s practice, a misnomer in this part of the world, begins in the late winter.  For thirty-eight of the forty-five years that I coached, I coached baseball.  Usually, the coldest days of winter occurs around the start of baseball practice in South Carolina.  This year’s start date, February 3.  Sleet, freezing rain, snow, and winds are sure to follow.

Truth be known, the cold start of baseball practice is what finally convinced me to retire.

If history repeats itself, Mother Nature will be bi-polar in the foothills of the Blue Ridge and in the Piedmont of South Carolina until April…or maybe early May.  We will have days of teeth chattering bitter cold with howling winds.  We will have frigid rains bordering and sometimes crossing over to the freezing variety.  We will have sleet driven by icy winds or huge, wet snowflakes that are here today and gone tomorrow.

If history repeats itself there will be spring days as well.  Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde weather with lows in the twenties and highs in the fifties or sixties.  Days that defy the calendar of January, February, March, and early April.  Days when crocus, buttercups and Scotch Broom are confused and punch out of the winter ground and bloom.  Days when my Red Bud begins to show pink only to be nipped in the bud by Jack Frost and Old Man Winter a day or two later.

Yesterday was the day that proves the rule.  With daylight hours lengthening enough to recognize, I was greeted with deep blue, cloudless skies.  Redtail hawks caught the thermals in the brightest of sunshine, whistling to each other…sharing their joy with me.  A purple finch stopped by my feeder showing the spring color that gave him his name.  A day so bright I felt the pull to search seed catalogs and almanacs to see when I should plant.

Don’t get me wrong, the feeling passed.  Yesterday was a deceptive day.  All spring looking but… There was still a nip in the wind making the low fifties seem like low forties and with no nighttime cloud cover, the lows have dipped into the high twenties before thinking of rebounding into the mid-fifties.  It looks like spring even if it doesn’t quite feel like spring.

This crazy season in the foothills of the Blue Ridge seems a lot like life.  It’s the good times that make life livable and the bad times less so bad.  Days like yesterday and today make the winter more survivable until the rains come tomorrow.  According to Longfellow and The Ink Spots, “Into each life, a little rain must fall”…but the sunshine makes it survivable if not likable.

Here is a toast for more spring days in January…and February….

The 1944 song by the Ink Spots took its title from a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, The Rainy Day.   If you listened you might think you hear Ella Fitzgerald.  You did.  She had a voice like a springtime too.

Don Miller’s author’s page may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM.

Looking Toward Spring

 

As I reached an age of wonder, I often wondered what my grandmother was looking toward as she gazed out of her window at her world.  During the gray days of winter, once her chores were completed, she often sat by the window in her bedroom looking out over her rock garden.  The garden was gray and brown…and bare.  No hollyhocks, iris or lilies…no butterflies.  Just the remnants of last year’s spring, summer, and fall.  Like her plants, my grandmother seemed to wilt and turn gray herself in the winter only to be reborn again in the spring.

Many winter afternoons were spent with a patchwork quilt, sewing quietly with WBT AM playing softly in the background…until some thought of spring crossed her mind and, once again, she would peer out of her window. Other days she might sit with her Bible, a crossword puzzle or the latest Readers Digest condensed anthology.  She would read, gaze out, read some more and repeat like the seasons.  Nannie would begin her rebirth as soon as the seed catalogs began to arrive RFD.

Later in life, she sat with her easel in a sunroom that had become her bedroom, surrounded by her plants and books, and would apply acrylic paint to a canvas board.   She created colorful remembrances based on memories of springs and summers past.  Flowers and birds were favorites…as were the ponds and lakes she fished in.

I understand why she looked toward spring.  I look toward spring myself when the blues and purples of crocus, periwinkle, and violets add color to the browns of winter.  Their blues and purples replacing the blues and purples clouding my own mind.

Looking toward spring until the reddish blossoms of a redbud tree and the pinks, oranges, and reds of azaleas replace bareness, brown and gray.  Till the yellows of buttercups and forsythia mimic the brightness of the sun.  Till the dogwood celebrates the blessings of Easter.  I look toward spring.

The birds bring color too.  Redbirds and woodpeckers have been active all winter as have robins and tanagers, battling the squirrels for the sunflower seeds I put out. They’ve been joined by gold and purple finches.  Their colors growing bolder as the days grow longer and their need to mate becomes stronger.

A pair of nuthatches are working hard to hatch their clutch and they wait, upside down, as I load the feeder near the house I fashioned for them from a hollow log.  I didn’t know I was fashioning it for them but they have taken it over for the past few years.  Returning like the spring.

Mourning doves coo softly and despite their name, I smile, not finding their call to be sad at all.  They are waiting until I leave before feeding on the seeds that have fallen upon the ground.

It won’t be long before the coos, chirps, and calls will be joined nightly by the lament of the whippoorwill or the “hoot, hoot, hoot” of owls on the far hillside.  They add their own color to the darkest night.

It was still cool this morning as I walked my familiar route.  The signs of spring were everywhere…yellow pollen fell from the trees onto the greening grass and swirled in the light breeze.  I worried about my bear friend I sometimes see on this rarely traveled road.  He’s more scared of me than I am of him…right?

A single turkey flushed from a thicket, climbed high, higher, highest to the crest of a hill.  Later, on the way back, a blue heron wading in the nearby the stream took to the air.  So sorry, I wouldn’t dare hurt you.  Huge wings gaining altitude into a cobalt blue sky.  The majestic bird only visits in the spring, so spring must really be here.

Soon butterflies will add their color to the wildflowers and plants I put out.  Yellow, red or blue and black wings will light upon blues, pinks, and whites as the season of rebirth moves on to the season of growth.

I know what my grandmother was looking toward and my heart smiles.  I am glad spring is here and the memories of her it brings.

Visit Don Miller’s author’s page at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

Trippin’ Over a Root Revisited

 

I love days like today.  Spring ain’t quite here but it is close enough to see.  Jonquils and have popped up and shown their yellow heads, turkeys are active as are the red tail hawks, a pair of nuthatches are building their nest in the same box for the third year in a row.  A beautiful day.  Just the kind of day to fall flat on your ass.   I saw four Canadian geese and was reminded of a similar day two years ago when I fell flat on my ass and my front side too.  Enjoy the rewritten post from this time two years ago.

At exactly one point eight-three miles into my workout, according to my GPS app, I kicked a freakin’ root.  I wasn’t paying attention to the rock and root strewed path…I was paying attention to a half-dozen Canadian geese who were stopping by from…Canada?  When they landed, I watched and tripped over the root banging my arthritic toe.  The geese didn’t stay long, instead, they took off to another part of the lake.  It might have been the loud cursing erupting from my mouth.

As I hobbled on and gazed heavenward contemplating my pain and the distance my expletives might have traveled, I kicked another root.  Same foot, same big toe…the big toe I’m trying put off surgery on until winter comes around again and I am worthless…ah, more worthless.

The second kick was even more solid than the first.  Mortar Forker!  This time I bent over, hands on knees, in agony and stood still, waiting for the pain exploding from my toe to ebb along with the tears the pain it had brought.  I’m still waiting…sorta.  The neurons responsible for pain have abated from the torrent exiting through the top of my head to a trickle of electrical charges radiating outward and surrounding my forefoot.  Four hours later, the pain is still there letting me know…it is still there!

Did I mention, it’s cold.  Late March, less than a week from Easter.  A moist, northeastern wind makes it seem colder…not tongue stuck to a flagpole cold but it’s not helping the throbbing in my toe or the way I’m reacting to it.  No, I am not going to put an ice pack on it.  I just shivered.

Earlier in the story, just after I had kicked the second root, I finally straightened up and again looked heavenward.  I found myself peering, jaw slack and agape, at a hornet’s nest the size of a medium watermelon less than three feet from my face.  You might guess where this is going and it ain’t a good trip.

Despite knowing it was too cold for hornets, I backed up quickly…tripping over the initial root I had banged my toe on.  This time I went down hard on my butt, jarring my teeth, and decided to stay there.   As I sat, I contemplated…how badly was I injured and “Help I’ve Fallen, and I Can’t Get Up!” briefly ran through my mind.

Mainly, I contemplated, how had the nest survived the winter and how had I not seen it?  What?  I’ve walked this trail a hundred times since last spring…why am I just now seeing this thing?  It’s hugeeeeeee!

I pondered on the pain the little suckers could have wreaked…and the providence that kept them from causing pain to me or the hundreds of kids attending the camp at Lookup Lodge.  Maybe I should have paid more attention to the name of the camp instead of looking down at my feet…then that hadn’t worked out well when I watched the geese.  My thoughts didn’t help the pain in my foot but did take me down a pig trail memory.

On a very cool, late fall day during my early teaching career, I was startled when an entire class exited their room as if the devil himself were after them.  Kids yelling and screaming, slapping at themselves and each other.  Seems a “Little Johnny” had found a hornet’s nest and brought it to school for show and tell.  Probably should have waited until the hornets died.  As the room heated up so did the little bastards.  Ouch.  Some students were treated for stings, others for bruises caused by over exuberant classmates.  I laughed and laughed and laughed…until my toe reminded me of why I was sitting on my butt having the memory.  Fother Muck!

Image from http://goalorientedrunner.blogspot.com/2017/02/blog-post.html

For more of Musings from a Mad Southerner https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

My “Most Wonderful Time of the Year”

This is a re-write, one I look forward to writing every year. My heart seems to sing and my hopes soar as I hear their call. I know spring’s rebirth is just around the corner and with it, mine.

Return of the Red Tails

I heard a shrill whistle from above and looked up into the February sky. It was a beautiful February day after a gray, rainy yesterday. Warmer than normal although the day felt cooler with a bit of a breeze blowing from the northwest. The sky was cloudless and of a deep blue color that poems are written about. Circling in the middle of the blue expanse was my red-tailed hawk.

I know she’s not mine any more than I’m hers but it’s the way I think of her…if she is a “her.” I believe she is her because of her size. She and I met several years ago when I got too near her nest and was dive bombed by either “herself “or her mate. A bright reddish-brown flash had me ducking low to the ground while uttering several expletives as I scurried to safety. For several days, I searched with binoculars until I found her nest high in an oak tree on the high hill behind my house and made a note to stay clear until her clutch had flown.

For the past several February winters, the red tails have returned to make repairs to their nest before beginning their courting flights as the days lengthen in the early spring. Soaring high into the blue sky while twisting and turning, the male makes steep dives around his mate before soaring back into the “romantic” blue sky. Soon they will retreat to their evergreen boudoir behind an ancient hemlock tree and their “acte d’amour” will begin for another season as the “circle of life” continues with an egg or three. Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate it.

I once wasted several cool, early summer mornings watching the red tail teaching her one offspring how to hunt field mice. Standing at the kitchen sink, a wide picture window affords me a view of a small open area between my backyard and one of the streams cutting my property. Sitting on a dead “stick up”, the red tail and her charge would wait patiently for movement, then, after erupting into a violent dive, return to their perch with the bounty of their exertions and share…until the fateful day when they returned and mommy hawk brushed the little one aside as if to say “This is mine, it’s time for you to go get your own.” There comes a time when we all must spread our wings and go off to do our own hunting.

My red tails are one of the harbingers of spring I check off as I await my “most wonderful time” of the year. Winters are tough on me and have become tougher as I approach the winter of my years. Soon everything will be green and colorful with rebirth. Despite my allergies, mosquitoes and the emergence of yellow jackets, it is the “most wonderful time” of the year.

As I knelt in my backyard, digging at some dormant plant needing to be moved, I paused to watch her catching thermals, soaring higher and higher. I realized we had survived one more season. It is a season of rebirth for us all. My grandmother lived for spring. In her nineties, I expected every winter to be her last but every spring she would rally, be re-born like the jonquils, to enjoy her “most wonderful time” of the year. In the February of her ninety-eighth year, winter won out as it will for us all. Until then I will await the return of my red tails, her memory, and my own rally and rebirth. My “most wonderful time.”

For more of Don Miller’s writings https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

Ode to February

 

Not really an ode…I’m not a poet…some would say I’m not even a writer…but that may just be my depression kicking in…or not.

Too many days of long dark nights, cold and crisp, with the stars twinkling brightly…clear as a bell…seeming so close you might touch them.  Too many days with the sun low in the Southern sky…if it can be seen at all due to the gray days full of winter rains.

I’ll take short summer nights, hot and humid, with the stars obscured by the mosquitos in the air…a thunderstorm rumbling in the distance.  That was almost poetic.

February gives me hope…I know it is cold and crisp this morning and a polar vortex has the mid-west in its deadly, skeletal grip…but there is hope…here in the foothill of the Blue Ridge.  Long range I see afternoon temperatures in the upper sixties.  A chance of the low seventies?  “Hope along Sweet February hope along.”

If previous winters teach us anything, there will be plenty of cold crisp days in February but there will be many “Chamber of Commerce” days too.  Days to live for…sandwiched around days of “I wish I were dead”.  Just enough bright and warm days to keep me alive until late spring.

Soon the cyclist will come out of their winter cocoons, dressed in the newest, natty attire, mimicking colorful butterflies…sorry butterflies, I know you would not dress like you were on an LSD trip on purpose.  Golfers will don their own form of garish fashion and head to the links in hopes of breaking one hundred.  Lines of bass boats in gaudy metal flake will make the trek toward Lakes Keowee, Jocassee or Hartwell, searching for trophy bass.

All will converge on Highway 11, joining pulpwood trucks and farm tractors, creating a slow parade in front of my house.  A parade I will watch from the comfort of my garden.  Maybe I will put on a flowery Hawaiian shirt in gaudy honor of the colors I see slowly passing my home.

My garden has laid fallow since the first frost…way back in late October.  February will give me hope.  Tilling and amending, the smell of cow poop in the air.  Dirty fingernails from digging in the dirt, with sweat pouring down my nose.  The aching knees and muscles of time well spent.  Hopefully, the effort will lead to sweet and tart Cherokee Purple tomatoes dressed in Duke’s Mayonnaise, salt, and pepper, served between two pieces of Sunbeam Bread.  An ear of corn on the cob, or five, on the side…if I can beat the raccoons to it this year.

February makes me hopeful…hopeful that I will flower like the early spring jonquils and crocus.  There will be plenty of “Oh, damn you cold” days in February…and then there are the winds of March on days seemingly left over from January.  But…there is hope and where there is hope, there IS life.

The image is from Deb’s Garden, http://debsgarden.squarespace.com/journal/2016/2/28/early-spring-conquering-weeds.html

Books and further musings from Don Miller can be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

Winter’s Deathly Grip….

Winter’s deathly grip is loosening.  Spring is right around the corner. I could feel it in the cold this morning. It has been warmer…and wetter than usual…until this morning.  It was still thirty-nine degrees, plenty cold for a walk in the foothills of the Blue Ridge, but there was a different feel to it. A feeling that the rebirth I associate with spring might be on the horizon. It is a feeling of change.  The brightening in the mornings chasing my depression away.  I know that winter will attempt to hang on, as will my depression but I am hopeful.

In this part of the world, March snowstorms are not uncommon and the last frost date is April fifteenth. BUT IT JUST FEELS DIFFERENT!

As a retired high school baseball coach, my feelings of change may be tied to major league pitchers and catchers reporting to camp or the reports of high school and college scrimmages with their opening dates just around the corner. I remember a game finished in a heavy sleet and another with a wind chill so low that both pitchers combined to pitch a one-hitter. I do not miss games in late February and early March. No, winter will hold on if it can, despite what a groundhog saw or didn’t see.

There are other harbingers. Crocus and buttercups have pushed up toward the sun. Scott’s Broom is blooming yellow and the quince pink.  My many forsythia bushes are putting off green leaves and a few yellow blossoms telling me my spring allergies are just around the corner.  I welcome them along with the work to come to reclaim and maintain my backyard.

I saw gold and purple finches at my feeder, feasting on the thistle they find there. The main herald is my beautiful red-tailed hawk. Well, she is not mine, but it is the third or fourth year she has made her nest in a dead oak tree on the hill above us. I hear her mating call and know there is a male somewhere about. It won’t be long until they will be training their little “branch hoppers” to fly and hunt.  One of my harbingers I haven’t seen yet are the turkeys.  There was thirteen last year, I hope there is more this year.  I’ve seen where they have been but not them.  I’m sure I’ll see them soon.

If weather trends continue as in the years before, there will be plenty of great days for baseball practice, a round of golf or even wetting a hook in late February.  Flowers and plants will green out and bloom, then March will come in like a lion with strong and mostly cold winds.  I hope my fig tree will survive.  I’m sure there will be a chance of snow to come before winter loosens its deathly grip but there is something about this cold.  It’s different…and it is welcomed.

For years before her death, my grandmother would seem to waste away during the winter months.  Her spirits would begin to rise when the seed catalogs began to arrive. She would recover during the spring and bloom like the spring flowers.  I’ve reached the age…and I understand.  I hope I am able to bloom one more time.

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The image was shared from https://askhomesale.com/2015/03/23/spring-spiration/