Three mornings ago it was 4 degrees here when I filled the bird feeders in the dark. I keep them stocked all day. Birds, like us, are endothermic. Our warm blood needs food to burn to make heat, and so they are at the feeders just when I can see my hand in front of my face. Their feathers contain an oil that keeps them dry, they find shelter from the wind, they puff up the way we fluff a down bag so air caught between feathers gives them insulation. They do not sing in the winter. Singing takes energy. January mornings are so quiet, the darkness like iron.
Their feet are bone and tendon. Cold does them little damage. But still, they need those calories, and so when the alarm goes off, I lie in bed thinking I must get up. This morning is the coldest of the winter. Minus -6 degrees in our yard with steady winds.
*Edwin Way Teale says that Spring moves 15 miles per day, but with its hesitations in the face of cold fronts, it averages roughly 100 miles per week. It moves uphill at 100 feet per day. At 600 feet of altitude our early flowers are buds when the ones at the bottom of the hill are ripe and open. In a steady beat, we are averaging about 2 and ½ minutes more of additional light day by day. Nothing will stop the tilt of the planet toward the Sun. Walk out of the wind at midday and turn your face to it. You will moan like a happy child at its warmth. It has prompted the nuthatches and titmice to begin their songs. I heard them for the first time on Wednesday. A week ago a raft of flickers must have arrived, the first in waves and waves of migrants. Suddenly they were everywhere in twos and threes. The red-winged blackbirds will be next. Time to declare territories. Time to look for a mate.
You feel it too — right now it takes the form of a yearning for warmth and a fatigue with gray and cold. A desire for the gold-green of early buds. More sun. More light. If you let yourself, you can sense something more powerful building to the south — this embryonic understanding, a primal sensation that life is coming back, that hibernation is almost over. More sun! More Light! Time to roll off the fat. Time to shut down the TV. Time to rise early for everything good that cannot be stopped.
In order: Titmouse, blackbird, flicker, nuthatch