Chasing the Winter Blues

Our primitive human ancestors sure had it rough when survival depended on three primary needs: food, shelter and clothing. They hunted, yet were also the hunted; took shelter but lived as nomads, following the herds and seasonal plantings. Clothing made from fur and hides had function, not style. As they evolved, so did their survival skills. They advanced to the point when, between tasks, they could afford to pause and perhaps point out a sunset, tell stories, adorn themselves, draw on walls, notice that the world consists of color, and feel emotion. The cognitive thought process grew, and tribute was paid to mother earth, the sun, moon, and stars.

Growing up in suburban Connecticut, I had never even seen a deer until I was in my mid-twenties, when we pulled off to the side of the road to watch one. It would be many more years until I would see a hawk. The housing developments that started after the last world war, the spraying of DDT, new industrial parks, pollution, hunting, and the like, so impacted the local wildlife that we thought most species existed in zoos, books, movies and TV, or way out west. Were we simply too busy and caught up in our own lives to notice, or were they truly on the verge of extinction?

I always say, there is a miracle in nature to be had here in Clinton, if one just takes the time to stop and notice our surroundings. During our first winter here, friends and family began to schedule visits, to check out our new digs and the novelty of "living in the country". It was February and we were expecting guests to celebrate a birthday weekend. A four hour ride up the East coast on a Friday evening made our friends even more happy to see us, and our visit began. We talked, cooked, toasted each other, played music, laughed, and danced, but eventually only so many fireside Scrabble games could be played and cabin fever started to set in.

Overnight, snow had started falling and didn't stop for another two days. Little did we know that a major nor'easter was bearing down on us, and our guests would be stuck for even a few more days. But they didn't come all the way up to Clinton just to sit in the house. They wanted to see our property, the creek, and the waterfall. So we bundled up and set out into the storm, hunkering over, fighting the wind, and keeping close as if we were roped together on an expedition up Mount McKinley. Step by step, what would usually be less than a five minute walk out into the woods, seemed like an epic saga.

Arriving at our destination, we high-fived each other for having made it in one piece. Our friends ooohed and ahhhed at the sight of the waterfall, with its fantasy-like miniature cities of ice created by the slow cascades. It is always a jaw dropping experience and we laughed to see our companions needing to spit out snowflakes, to give their verbal exclamations. The wind was really howling and it was snowing sideways. The snow hit us so hard that it stung. Yet, we were proud to be in such a precarious place and time, as most sane people stayed inside safe and warm.

Through this total whiteout, we first heard the birds. It was odd to hear so many, and even more remarkable that we could hear them over the wind and the sound of the falls.

One of us cried out, “What the heck?!?” Another pointed: “Look at that!” A third questioned, “A flock of birds???” And I screeched: “Robins? In a snow storm?!??” There was a collective “WOW!”

The red breasts of the birds showed brightly through the snow. Then, in a micro-second, each pair of eyes told our brains that the birds were a bright midnight blue, and we screamed as a group: “BLUE BIRDS!” There they were, at least 50 of them, chirping wildly and fluttering in a tree that sagged and hung over the water. In an instant we were silenced. Shock, amazement, and delight only begin to describe our surprise.

I had never seen a bluebird before and it would be several years later before I would see any again. I had pulled up to the house with a car full of groceries. Once again something caught my eye as I took the keys out of the ignition. There in front of me, flitting in and out of the trellis that leads to the front door, were these cheerful little busy birds. They were after the berries of the aged holiday greenery in the lattice. Once again I remained frozen, utterly stunned, mouth agape.

The bluebirds are no big thing to our neighbor next door. He once said he sees them all the time. Well, no wonder. He has bluebird houses set at just the right height and facing away from the weather. Some avid bird watchers stock a feeder with meal worms to attract them. But, for me, seeing them in the most natural setting, and by happenstance, was profound. The instant my eyes recognized their "blueness" I thought about the moment when man might have first recognized color, could draw a comparison between a bluebird and the sky, and feel truly blessed.

And I was full of happiness, knowing spring was drawing near!


Pat Laine is an 8 year resident of Clinton. She owns and operates Little Creek Therapeutic Massage. She shares her home with her husband Will and their two Maine Coon cats. Whether walking in the woods, or from their vantage point overlooking Little Wappingers Creek and its environs, they observe the miracles of wildlife and plant life on a daily basis.

Miss the previous months' contributions to IN OUR BACKYARD?

Here is March
Here is February
Here is January
Here is December