During life in the time of coronavirus, traveling your backyard can relieve stress while reminding you that you are part of the world. While we hunkered down inside, spring arrived. Birds belt out their mating songs, and long-dormant plants push through the leaf litter and mulch. Those of us fortunate enough to own our own property can spend hours outside without leaving its borders. After all, lots of spring work lies ahead. But even city dwellers can avail themselves of the outdoors. If you can’t walk outside, open the windows. Look and listen carefully. Mindfulness doesn’t apply only to eating and meditation.
I’m surprised every year when I gently rake the winter’s detritus out of my gardens and discover plants that already are well into their growth cycles. Even though winter birds remain in my yard, year-long residents have started to change their colors and song. I realize that in a month or even less, hummingbirds will arrive to build their nests.
So take a walk. As long as you aren’t in strict quarantine and practice social distance, you can enjoy the outdoors. If you can’t leave your home, meditate in front of an open window. Right now, you need to protect your mental health as well as your physical one.
Learn Your Birds
As bird lover, I’m especially attuned to birdsong. Every morning, in the dark, a Carolina wren bursts into loud notes that signal a good day ahead. In my yard, house finches are usually the noisiest, in part because of their numbers; however, I regularly hear cardinals, titmice, and chickadees. The nasal eh-eh-eh of nuthatches and the laughing sounds of woodpeckers punctuate what would otherwise be silence. I even heard a pileated woodpecker in the distance the other day.
Male goldfinches are molting their winter drab colors for their summer brilliant yellow-and-black. They look mottled, with some males more advanced than others.
If you don’t know your birds, you can learn how to identify them through sight and sound. Once you get a few down, you can start to classify others by behavior and body type. I’ve always been partial to my old Peterson Field Guide to Birds, mostly because I find it easier to identify by illustration rather than photographs. That said, the National Audubon Society publishes a good guide that gets great reviews. For online information, check out The Cornell Lab’s All About Birds website.
And On the Ground . . . .
Evidence of animals abounds. The chipmunks have ventured out of their burrows, as have rabbits. Squirrels are more frisky, as happy for spring as we are. If you live in deer country, as I do, then you can tell where they spent nights on your property. In the tall grasses outside my study window, the deer have made depressions where they tucked their bodies. Traveling your backyard, looking for signs of other creatures, helps confirm that, yes, life goes on.
Flowers – Already!
Since the season’s blooms have already begun, check them out, closely. Look at their structure, color, and where they are in their cycle. On a warm day, pollinators may dart in and out of them. Notice how not all bees are the same.
We have a weird dogwood next to our front walkway that blooms yellow in early spring. The daffodils are in full bloom and even near the end of their display. Our PJM rhododendrons just started blooming, too. They will be a riot of color in a week or so. Even our star magnolia has begun to show the dark pink of future flowers.
Perennials on the Way
If you have perennials in your garden, you might find them under winter debris. In my pollinator garden, I discovered dark green foxglove leaves, scalloped columbines, furled astilbes, and well-on-their-way phloxes. What a relief to see signs that winter has indeed ended. The light is brighter now, and the air is fresher, more organic.
I’m always delighted to find self-seeded coral bell seedlings growing between the paving stones of my patio. Unlike weeds, these seedlings save me money since a mature plant would set me back $10-20. In a couple of weeks, I’ll gently pry them loose, roots and all, to replant in the garden where they belong.
You know how people said, “It feels like snow,” and “It smells like spring”? Ask yourself while you walk in your yard (or breathe in the air from an open window) what about the air distinguishes the season. Is it the smell, or more than that? Sounds travel differently in warmer air – could that contribute? How is the light different? How does the air feel against your skin? Close your eyes, and take it all in. When you open your eyes again, you may appreciate the day even more.
Our worlds may have shrunk with the coronavirus lockdowns; however, that doesn’t mean that we must shut down ourselves. Practice mindfulness, even when you step out your back door. You may be surprised how uplifting an exploration of nature, waiting just outside your door, can be. Breathe in the air. Listen. Smell. Feel. Learn. You won’t regret it.
Debbie Lee Wesselmann
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