Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010

Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010
Photo by R.E. Berg-Andersson

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Winter Thoughts

This has been a good week for me, and that fact is unusual enough for me to put my feet up, put on some music and note it here.

We've had a week of below-average temperatures and about an inch of snow that has been slowly melting each time the sun is out for more than 10 minutes. This cold has made it uncomfortable for being out on errands or looking for birds. But in my sunny office right now, life is good.

Compared with last January, the sixth-snowiest January on record, according to the "year in weather" chart the New York Times publishes the first Sunday of the year, I'll take it. We're not even at February yet. Last February was the second snowiest thanks to eight inches of the white stuff. I don't want that again.

Today I looked at all the birds at the four feeders I have out and realized I saw six male cardinals at once. That is a record for the backyard. Two were on the ground with the squirrels, grabbing the seed dropped by the house finches and house sparrows. Two were in the bushes, their red feathers easily seen on the bare branches. One was atop one feeder pole, the last at the house feeder on the other pole.

My yard is the only one within eyeshot offering seed this year, and in this cold the birds are taking full advantage of it.

Also today, I went to the monthly winter farmers market at the Fosterfields county park and bought an assortment of root vegetables (turnip, potatoes), greens (spinach and collard), onions, garlic and artisanal baked goods. It's not cheap to buy at the farmers market - you can get many more things and cheaper at the local grocery store. But they have been shipped in from the other side of the world, the side now in summer.
Male cardinal, winter 2014

What I buy tastes better and lasts longer because they come from farms in New Jersey, which I'd like to think I'm helping to survive when I make my purchases. From the looks of the crowd that got there five minutes after the market officially opened (I got there early for a reason), there are a lot of local residents who want to do the same.

I am lucky to not only have the money to buy these goods but to have parks such as Fosterfields - a working, teaching farm - a close drive from my house. These non-bakery purchases will allow me some variety from the usual frozen peas and dry pasta side dishes. Knowing this gives me the energy to consider what to make this week for supper.

It is such silly thoughts that keep me going in a life where it seems the harder you work the further behind you fall. I am enjoying this transient feeling of calm and semi-prosperity as the sun warms me and music plays as I write.

These are purely human concerns, of course.

I don't know if I'd want to be a bird fighting others to eat my sunflower seed or, if a woodpecker, the suet hanging upside down in the feeder. Then again, birds don't worry about things like paying bills, making the dinner menu more interesting or remaining employed for the paycheck as I do. Their needs are more basic at this time of year: finding food and avoiding predators such as the red-tailed hawk my husband saw in one of our trees this morning.
Backyard red-tail, 2013 (R.E. Berg-Andersson)
Since the birds don't wear name tags, I don't know how many of the ones now at the feeders are the same as the ones there a week ago. I do know today we've had a pair of goldfinches for the first time in a long time, plus a female hairy woodpecker. But those six male cardinals tell me that it's getting harder for these birds to find food.

I am very glad I do not have to depend only on the farmers market to keep me alive. As for the birds, I have a new, 40-pound bag of seed and four more suet cakes for when the current ones are done.

Because it's going to be a long winter.