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I'm a woman entering "the third chapter" and fascinated by the journey.

Monday, February 28, 2011

They're back (again)

Last year, the first grackles materialized on March 13th; this year, several of them were at the tray feeder on February 20th. I'm not sure if this means that they exhausted their regular food supply earlier (which wouldn't surprise me, given the harshness of the winter) or if they were celebrating a break in the weather.  I'm inclined to suspect the latter, as one of the males has already started his female-attracting behavior: fluffing out his handsome feathers and pointing his pointy beak straight up at the sky.  Ah, love.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The first(?) robins

When I was a girl, everyone said that robins were the first sign of spring.  If that is so, then we don't have much winter any more, and given the amount of snow we have had since early December, I have had quite enough winter, thank you very much. Still, it seems that sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the robins vanish, and inevitably, I am too busy with end-of-semester tasks to notice their departure. Suddenly, they're just gone. Or are they?

Most years, sometime in February, there is a racket in a nearby tree. I look up and discover that it's full of robins.  My first thought is usually that they've come back too soon, but I have learned that not all robins fly south for the winter.  Nearly all the females do, but many males stay north to get a head start on choosing their spring breeding territories. They're willing to risk starvation to lay claim to the best spot for attracting the returning bird babes. (No comment on the male thought process.)

Of course, those of us with messy, or at least densely planted, yards help these little guys with their plans.  It turns out that the diet of wintering robins turns from insects to fruit, so any of the shrubs with berries that hang on in the winter offer a smorgasbord to turdus (in this case, non-)migratorius.  Hollies, crabapples, hawthorns, and an assortment of roadside weeds (and probably, even though they're dreadfully invasive, barberries and privets) provide enough carbs and calories to keep our little signs of spring alive through the northern winters. At the same time, the robins remind us that spring is indeed on its way.  Sounds like a good deal to me.

Friday, February 11, 2011


  • The military dictatorship in Egypt, one that took power before I was born, may be over.  One of the texts under discussion in my early American lit course this week was the Declaration of Independence, and students were very aware that Egypt may be going through a similar revolutionary moment.  All are hopeful that Egypt's freedom will come without the years of bloodshed that marked our revolution, and probably most others.
  • At the same time that there was jubilation in Egypt and hope in the halls of WVUP, a cherished colleague finally succumbed to the cancer that he'd fought for months. The next day, our department enjoyed a baby shower for a young colleague and his wife.
  • In the back yard, the downy woodpeckers have found their way to our tail-prop suet feeder.
  • The robins are back.  Did they ever leave, or were they in hiding?
  • Will the crocuses be next?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Winter of Our Discontent

This is shaping up to be a winter of loss.  I just had an e-mail from a colleague with the news that another colleague who's been battling metasticized cancer now seems to be in the last stages.  This man was always a "lemons to lemonade" kind of person: a displaced worker in his forties, he landed in one of my classes, then went on to earn a doctorate and returned to the college as a faculty member and, eventually, an administrator.  The possessor of one of the best baritone voices in our area, he was a fixture of local musical theater for decades. Just sixty, he's always seemed too full of life to be leaving it so soon.

My mother seems now to have entered another stage in her dementia.  She's been in assisted living for three years now for her own protection and to try to provide her with company, but she can no longer remember the names of any of her neighbors and has made no real friends. Most days when I call, less so when I can actually visit, what she tells me is how lonely she is and how she "never thought it would be like this." The loneliness has gotten worse since  her cat had to come live with me because memory didn't extend to checking the litter box, and Miss Kitty nearly ruined the apartment's carpeting and the couch's upholstery. With the cat gone, Mother on most days has no living thing to touch.

 Paradoxically, there is a blessing to the holes in Mother's memory. She now seems to remember only the good things about the past, totally oblivious to much of what I recall: the episodes of violence in our household caused by a combination of poverty and mental illness, the stories of sexism and grinding poverty she told me about her own childhood. She also doesn't realize the speed and degree of my sister's deterioration as she spirals toward a death that may well come before Mother's.

This is a winter of professional loss as well.  A project that was the focus of much of my work life for the last few years seems to have died, disappointing some very fine students and leaving me questioning my ability to be useful.  Retreating into an exclusive focus on the classroom is at least partially salvaging this stage of my career.

Spring can't come too soon.