Squirrels with tiny shovels?

You know it has been a long winter when the woodland critters start digging themselves paths through the snow.

I wish I had seen them with their little shovels!

I wish I had seen them with their little shovels!

This morning, I looked out the kitchen window to see not just prints but a regular daggone pathway leading from the house to a hydrangea bush.  I figured it was a squirrel route, but squirrels (like my students) don’t have the attention span to dig a pathway.  They just leap and scurry.  No, this pathway must be the work of tunnel digging chipmunks.  In summer, the rock wall by that hydrangea is one of the entrances to their Maywood Metro System.  Yeah, I can just picture Simon, Theodore and Alvin (!!!!! ) with tiny little shovels working their way across the garden.

The snow pack  reveals a lot about who is coming and going out there.  For example, it revealed my brother-in-law’s visit to the front door the other day.  It also reveals all the routes the squirrels take to get to the house. One route is across the patio and over the abandoned hot tub where they leap on the house and into the attic to party until spring.  There are other routes that involve leaping, Tarzan-like, from trees to the roof.

Like the squirrels, the mice have no desire to shelter under a hydrangea bush in the Maywood subway system. No, they want the full comforts of home for as long as  they can get away with it.  Maywood Man keeps tossing snapped invaders and still they come.  You’d think they would  get the message that the one-way track of mouse prints leads to a cozy house of death.

Meanwhile, out yonder, the deer have gotten the message that we are turning the clocks forward tonight for Daylight Savings Time.  They have been seen traipsing across the field, brown against white, as though spring is coming, it isn’t below freezing, and they aren’t walking through nine inches of snow.  Is it the longer days or the lack of men sitting in trees that signals to them that it is safe to use their usual paths through the yard?  It sure isn’t the weather.

So it’s March, and we have no idea who remains in the beehives  because it has been too cold to look inside and they certainly have not been coming out to play in the snow.  We know at least one hive is empty and suspect that a second was not going to last the winter.  It would be great to find the two strong hives waiting for us when the temp breaks 50 later this week. Regardless of who has survived, we ordered four packages of bees for the new season.

Spring is coming.  It always does.  The chipmunks are ready.  And maybe some  bees.

Marching into spring…with my rake

Last week the clock said to spring forward,  but there is nothing about getting up an hour earlier that gets me springing anywhere.  However, an extra hour of daylight in the afternoon was a good enticement to spring home from work, grab a rake, and head out into the garden.

I love to rake.  It makes me happy.  Raking gets me outside on a sunny day.  When the temperature is in the fifties, like it often is in March, the brisk air is perfect for working without getting hot.  The heart gets pumping while the arms get working and the sunbeams do their magic.  Endorphins are flowing!  Yay, it’s so good to be outside!  When the temp is in the seventies, like it has been this week, nothing can keep me indoors!

This year it is even better than usual, because I find that I can rake without pain.  My new two-month-old hip is perfectly content to get out there and rake.  Although my smart-aleck sister tells me I now walk like Dad, I actually feel like a normal person–or at least what I think a normal person feels like.  What a change from the impossible task of raking last fall.

Raking always makes me think of our long-ago neighbor Sam.  Sam had a perfect yard.  It was a small just-inside-the-Beltway yard, bordered by a chain link fence.  It was perfectly mowed, perfectly edged, perfectly bordered with little concrete bed borders and never a leaf to be seen.  Sam policed his yard wearing what looked like a cotton picker’s sack and carrying a pole with a point on the end–the kind maintenance workers used to use to pick up trash.  He’d stab each wayward leaf and stash it in the sack.  That’s how few leaves he had–he could stab each one with a stick.

Unlimited supply of leaves

Some people, like Sam, have immaculate yards and spring just marches in for them.  Out here in the Hereford Zone, immaculate yard-keepers are either leaf-blower fanatics or they don’t have a wooded lot.   No leaf-blowing fanatics live at our house; it is an unending task and there are so many other things to do.  Sam would lose his mind trying to keep ahead of the leaves out here.   Not only are the woods full of them, but the white oaks have an annoying way of waiting until May to drop their remaining leaves.   It’s best to toss aside any idea of “immaculate.”  “Perfect” needs to go, too.  “Aesthetically pleasing” is about as good as it gets.

First periwinkle blossom of spring

Nevertheless, raking in March is immensely gratifying.  It is a mindless task that yields immediate results.  Each swipe of the rake removes the dull cloak of winter-brown to reveal the fresh green of spring.  Vinca is just waiting to be seen.  Crocus are desperately trying to pop their colors.  Daffodils are begging for a fresh new bed to wake up in.  Off go the sedum twigs.  A sweep reveals new buds ready to unfurl.  Each section that I rake pulls off more of the blanket of winter.  Spring has just been waiting for me.

With so much to rake, I  must prioritize.  Who is blooming first and what do I look at the most?  No matter when I start–and this year I feel like I’ve had a head-start–it’s always a race against Spring.  I  must get the leaves out of the way before Spring appears. Crocus and daffodils have priority.  The front of the house and views from the kitchen window get targeted first.  A close second is the herb garden.  I know the chives are beginning to peek up.  By St. Paddy’s Day, they are tall enough to snip for my morning egg.

Saturday was a glorious St. Patrick’s Day–by the end of the day the yard was definitely wearin’ o’ the green.  Almost all the  beds were raked out and the grass was blown clear.  We were  rewarded with an al fresco dinner of corned beef and cabbage and a Bailey’s Irish Cream sundae for dessert.  Does it get any better than that?