February 2015. We had high hopes of finding February after losing January. One balmy day and we were out whacking down grasses and seedy natives to make way for daffodils, then planning the next attack on a wayward garden. We had even recovered from weather-channel junkie-dom, or so we thought. We had great expectations for a warm and wonderful spring. Then we fell on hard times.
It wasn’t much. All it took was a couple inches of snow followed by freezing rain and sleet and punishing temperatures down to single digits and we had a slippy slidey Winter Wonderland. (Funny, in that song, they’re such carefree walkers, never waddling stiff-kneed and flat-footed like penguins, never clutching each other for support, never slipping and falling, never shattering some indispensable body part.)
We were shut down here for a couple of days, secondary roads not clear, provided with suggestions from the electric company about how to conserve power, in particular the postponing of laundry chores if possible. Indeed, that certainly was possible, and what a fine idea. Now a benevolent sun is doing its own brand of clean up, dissolving icicles everywhere, sending them off in torrents of brittle rain showers that crackle as they fall. You northerners might laugh at our paralysis during winter storms, but we southerners are not used to such indignities.
The wax myrtles have lost all structure, their bowed branches blocking the driveway, threatening mail delivery and closing off our front path. Our front steps were icy mounds of snow till I chopped them away with my Christmas Hers shovel (gift tag still attached, unusual inauguration for a shovel).
This is such a singular event I take lots of pictures, while Bob fixes weather stripping, changes filters, saws broken branches and cleans ice off the car. Someone has to do the work.
I see their footprints on a path near the house today, stamped in the crusty snow before it became crusty last night. Then I hear them. It puts me in mind of Clement Moore’s line, When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter. . . I turn my head in time to see panicked deer fleeing a noisy fracking scene: their hooves had plunged through a sheet of ice and the rackety crackling, unfamiliar, frightened them off into the woods. Good.
The birds are frantic. We throw seed out or fill feeders, five pounds a day. They swoop and dart, barely avoid colliding with each other. They are flying into windows so often, especially on that first gray day, it sounds like pop guns going off. Not so much the regulars who know the routes and resting places, but the bad-weather throngs who are coming to mooch while food sources are scarce. Amazing that there are no permanent casualties.
One warblerish bird (pine, prairie warbler?) sits fluffed and still, eyes closed, wings akimbo, on the icy floor of the gazebo. We want to cradle it, warm it on its away, at least give it some boots, but there is no point in terrorizing the creature. It’s there for the longest time before it opens its eyes, bobs its head, straightens, and flies off at some signal.
A flock of red-winged blackbirds and starlings swoops in. The birds, which multiply by the minute until treetops are crowded, displace our usual visitors, but they are skittish and heave away if we go near the door. I am always surprised at how that narrow red bar on the blackbird becomes quite a showpiece in flight.
Their leaving gives space to the mourning doves, cardinals, juncos, chickadees, titmice, sparrows and finches who only budge when threats are dire. A single red bellied woodpecker moves in, and a single blue jay, but they are not aggressive; they are too big to peck comfortably at our feeders.
In general, it’s a pretty good-natured group, some jostling but none take notice. Part of a bird’s life. Goldfinches, who have worried away seedheads from stalks of green-eyed coneflowers, vie for the Eat-Like-a-Hog prize. Two male cardinals chase each other, the redder one clearly the bolder one. Hey, it’s ‘teen temps, can’t you forget the hierarchy and conserve energy? You’re squandering expensive black-oil sunflower seed.
The squirrel has not been around. We are missing the squirrel. A day later three show up, picking through discarded shells under the feeders. We’ve finally positioned the feeders so they can’t reach them. We guess they had better pickins’ elsewhere.
Curiously, the flock of blackbirds and starlings leaves the porch floor and gathers on the sterile, snow-coverd front lawn. They mill around. No pecking. No feeding. Looks pretty aimless to me. I move too close to their comfort zone and they fly.
A black lump remains. I investigate and find a male starling, iridescent head shining in the sunlight, paralyzed. He watches me, probably terrified. I see no sense in becoming a threat and walk away. When I check later, he is gone. Had the flock been rallying around the disabled? Protecting it? Comforting it with their presence? Just plain rubbernecking? That is, until danger is perceived and the flock evaporates.
It’s too soon to know how the camellias will react. The low temps could kill some, cause dieback even to the roots, or blast flower buds, or they might shrug off the hazardous weather. I remember camellias succumbing to a couple of hard winters in Savannah, though old and established tended to fare better than whippersnappers.
Sigh, but what about all my rooted cuttings and seedlings that looked so good in November — will they make it? I gambled on a kind winter, potting them late and sheltering them in our potting area. I watched as dry leaves, lazy on a breeze, created a fluffy mulch over them, and I was satisfied then. Will they survive January’s downpours and February’s ice?
Hmm, and what about the roots of woodland wildflowers I planted late fall. . . And the rohdea from a friend . . . And . . . And . . .Come to think of it, my gardening has always been a high-stakes game.
I may lose this one, but if that is the price for having these stunning, sparkly days with the dripping icicles and branches crusted in fake diamonds so bright they hurt your eyes, I will pay it.