The Daily: 2 March 2023

So it’s been snowing every day since… I can’t remember. My weather journal says 19 February. We’ve seen the sun here and there but only for a couple hours, mostly in the mornings. Today, we were supposed to have “snow showers” which normally means a bit here and there. However, it is 5pm and it has not stopped snowing heavily since sometime around midnight last night. At least the temperature is high enough that road salt works. Last weekend, it was snowing heavily at around 0°F. Salt does nothing at those temperatures. Even the caustic road salts only work to about 15°F. And the fact that it makes pretty, glacier blue ice does not absolve it for turning sidewalks and garden paths into unyielding skating rinks for most of the winter.

I’m discovering that Vermont has a very loose definition of “winter road maintenance”. And, ok, I get that. Especially in weather like this where there isn’t much to be done about it except hunker down. Even if you have a Subaru… or skis. However, if you work for a large corporation that does not have its headquarters in Vermont — as I do for the moment — your employer is not going to understand that driving to work is literally death defying. This has made it all the more important to get out of my current job. Let the kids who live on campus run the bookstore. That’s about the wages they pay anyway. Nobody should have to risk their lives over minimum wage — though I know that’s pretty much the norm… (Essential workers, anyone?…)

I’ve had to dig trenches to the composter, the bird feeder and my cold frame (which still has greens!). The birds are going through cupfuls of seed a day. And it is just birds now. The feeder is a “squirrel proof” contraption that actually works as billed. It’s hung on a spring. Most birds aren’t heavy enough to depress it, but squirrels are. When they climb on, the whole feeder drops down and the feeding holes are shuttered. I’m sure the rodents could eventually figure this out, but they’re not sufficiently motivated because I also have the feeder filled with seed coated in extremely hot chile oil. It smells too hot for even my tastes; it makes my eyes water. The squirrels sometimes get desperate enough to try a nibble despite the smell… they never take a second bite. I’ve seen more than one hopping around wiping their face and doing the squirrel equivalent of screaming obscenities. In any case, the squirrels aren’t eating this seed, but it’s vanishing every couple days. So the birds are gorging.

There aren’t many other food options for birds right now. There is all this snow for one thing. But it’s also March, the tail end of the dark half of the year. Trees and bushes are picked clean, where they aren’t flocked and decked in icicles. There also haven’t been insects since last autumn, though the birds who primarily eat bugs are not here yet. But the birds who are here are emptying the feeder faster than usual.

Maybe it’s the cold, though last January was colder and I don’t remember having to fill up a feeder more than once a week. Maybe it’s getting close to breeding season and everyone is fattening up in preparation. I’m fairly certain the female cardinals are intentionally plumping. Cardinals used to nest in early to mid April, but the females have been vanishing from the feeder earlier in the year for the last many years. Their normal two clutches of eggs in a summer may be three now. So maybe we can consider all this gorging a sign of spring.

Maybe. But I think the chickadees and nuthatches and wrens might just be eating out of boredom. There is nothing else to do. Might as well chow down on this seed that the bipeds keep leaving out. I imagine I would be the same. There are arborvitae trees around the feeder, plus several houses worth of eaves and porches for shelter. One wren has figured out how to get into my back porch and likes to cozy up in the dish of lavender flowers I keep on a shelf out there. But most just hang out close to the feeder so that my side yard has a halo of birds flitting between feeder and rest spots. There isn’t even much aggression. It’s like they have a rotation set up — though some of the woodpeckers will disrupt that, clearing everyone off so they can eat from the big seed log all by themselves.

The pileated woodpecker is the worst. Such a rude beast! But he doesn’t like the seed. He’ll clear everyone off the whole feeding pole with his screechy squawking, but then he settles down to eat the suet (which also has meal worms in it, woodpecker favorites!). Most of the little birds have figured out that as long as they stay on the opposite side of the seed feeder, out of his line of sight as he hangs from the suet feeder, then they can keep eating. The wren, however, is all about open confrontation. I think he’d go out of his way to egg on the pileated. And when the woodpecker treats the little brown ball of vexation with pure disdain, the wren gets all the angrier, venting his rage on everyone else — including me. I’m hoping he does not decide to claim my back porch for his nesting site. That’s the main entrance to my home, and I don’t care to deal with a squeaky, territorial feather demon every time I have to go outside.

I’m curious. If you feed birds, have you noticed an increase in appetite? What’s the weather like where you are, and are there wild foods available? If the birds are stuffing themselves, are they doing so calmly and without much fuss? Or are they being normal birds, fighting over every seed like it is going to be the last one forever? I’m just wondering what looks like normal for birds in February these days.

On a related note, given the level of normal-is-crazy in the weather nationwide this week (I mean, snow in Santa Clarita, CA, and the 5 closed for days?!?), are any of you giving more thought to your commute? Vermont may be lackadaisical about keeping the roads clear, but there are other states that don’t even have that capability — and yet will be needing it to enable your drive. Since it has already happened, it’s probably time to start planning for black swans like winter storms in Los Angeles. What are you going to do when you can’t get to work? Or school? Or even the grocery store? It’s yet another reminder that we all need to be ready for quite literally anything.

But some things never change. Because after all this snow… comes mud season. Oi…

Mud season in Vermont (image by Bob Eddy, 1993, The Randolph Herald)

From the Book Cellar

I had it in mind to review Neil Postman’s Technopoly: The Surrender of our Culture to Technology (1992, Vintage). But the density of dog-eared pages in my copy is daunting. I feel like I would be typing out the whole book to merely discuss the salient points. So maybe I’ll just add this one to the must-read list and leave it to you to dog-ear your own copy. At 199 pages of Postman’s wry wit and uncomplicated writing style, it’s not an onerous assignment. Especially if you have a snow-day to while away.

I’m sure most of you already have a well-loved copy of Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death. I think Technopoly is even more essential, though I might wish that Postman had done more with his last “what to do about this mess” chapter than just give advice on education. But then education was his life’s focus, so I suppose he’s forgiven for focusing on it.

On the other hand, perhaps education is the only thing we can do about Technopoly. As long as we are immersed in this water, we have a very difficult time noticing how foul it is. Or even that it is! We could all use Postman’s monkey wrench tossing perspective. No matter how aware you may be, Postman will draw attention to cultural biases and blindnesses that you’d never considered. There are so many ah-ha moments in this book, it could be an education all in itself. At least a really good symposium on humans under the influence of our own gadgetry.

So go find a copy. But maybe buy one. Librarians look askance at dog-eared pages, you know…


©Elizabeth Anker 2023

3 thoughts on “The Daily: 2 March 2023”

  1. We don’t feed birds at my house because of squirrels and also our chickens, especially with the bird flu running hot around the US right now. I grow perennials that have seed birds like though and leave them standing through winter. Though we have gotten 71 inches of snow so far this year and we usually get 51. But this winter has also seen more rain than ever before. So that’s how it’s going here. Because of the deep snow, all the critters are hungry, but nobody seems desperate as far as I can tell. Probably because feeding birds is very popular in my neighborhood so everyone is getting fed more or less.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Eliza,

    I must report, alas, that life goes on pretty much as usual in LA. My commute takes me from the westside to Riverside. The recent spate of crazy weather affected the visuals but not the mechanics. The snow on the mountains along rte 60 covered not just the summits but the slopes more than halfway down. That was unprecedented and mighty spectacular. It looked a bit like Switzerland (just guessing … never been there). But then there was rte 60 itself – snow-free, brimming with automobiles, and ugly as sin. I grew up in a place that got lots of snow, and I recall the feeling of sauntering down the streets with my friends when no cars were about. The place felt like our town in a real, tangible way. Great feeling – maybe been trying to recapture it ever since. If the day ever comes when I can saunter down the middle of rte 60 with no fear of cars, then we can talk about LA maybe being livable. At least until the snow melts!

    Brian

    Liked by 1 person

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