February Greetings! Despite the groundhog’s prediction of 6 more weeks of winter, we are surely moving on toward spring. There have been a few moments of freshness in the air to remind us that warmer, brighter days will be here before we know it. And then we’ll probably be frantically scrambling with yard chores and trying to get gardens planted in hopes that they’ll be healthy and fruitful in the days to come. Here’s a picture of some flowers from last year in Orlando. I thought we could all use a little color splash…
Humans have always watched nature for signs of weather and seasonal changes, as well as disturbances to the normal pattern of things. Though we may find Groundhog Day predictions disappointing or consider groundhogs to be pests, they really do have an important place in the food chain, and their burrows provide lots of other species with homes. National Wildlife Federation has some great info on groundhogs, also known as woodchucks, and the origin of Groundhog Day here.
So what’s going on out there? We’ve just passed mid-winter and the longer daylight has probably taken your notice. There are spring bird songs on the wind, great horned owls are nesting, and blackbirds are murmuring their way back to the area and emptying out bird feeders in record time. I haven’t seen any groundhogs appearing from their burrows in my neighborhood yet, though.
Snowdrops continue to bloom, crocuses are popping out, and although I didn’t get to check the wetlands last week, I’d bet there are some of these little beauties peeking out. This exotic flower looks like it belongs in a tropical jungle, but it’s a local native – skunk cabbage. It will get its large cabbage-like green leaves as the season progresses. Skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) gets its name from the smell that permeates the air when you crush the leaves. Although the smell is unpleasant, the root provides a potent (small-dose) medicine for spasmodic lung conditions and was used by the Native Americans as cough medicine. The leaves were also made into a poultice (crushed up and placed on the area needed) for pain relief.
The evenings over the past week have been stunning, though brisk. Last Tuesday night, the full moon cast a brilliant glow on the earth below, lending clarity of form to what normally appears as dark shapes. Crystallized grasses became an enchanted pathway, shimmering in the soft moonlight. Winter constellations were clear and bright, and the air was crisp and refreshing. It was the epitome of winter’s beauty, with a silence that curled around everything in a cape of peace and solace.
The month of February has a bit of anticipation and mystery to it. We get teased with some signs of spring, yet the frosty nights remind us we are still in the grip of winter. It’s an in-between time, as we walk a line of light and dark, cool and warm, winter bareness and spring songs.
It’s also the time of owls. On an owl hike Saturday night, we were graced by some Eastern screech owls, alerting us to their presence in the area with their trilling calls. Two of them flew in above our heads, and we only knew they were there because we looked for their silhouettes against the sky. Owls’ specialized feathers are frayed at the ends to allow them to fly in silence, making them skillful nocturnal predators. If we hadn’t seen them fly in, we wouldn’t have known they landed right above us. For more info and pictures of these local wonders, check out Cornell University’s All About Birds website.
Owls have a long history of lore, being creatures of the dark, representing night, magic, mystery, and wisdom. They’ve been associated with the Greek goddess Athena and the ability to see what is hidden. In some cultures, owls are portents of death. Whatever meaning we humans have placed on them, they are exquisite animals with unique adaptations for night-time living. Late-winter and spring nights are a great time to listen in as they call out to one another to define territories, mate, and nest. I highly recommend that you allow yourself to be drawn out into this beauty and magic at least once.~*~*~*~*
My adventures were mostly night time excursions, so there are fewer pictures this time around. My camera can’t capture luminous moonbeams, so you’ll just have to immerse yourself in your own imagination. But I’m happy to report at no time this week did I put myself or anyone else in harm’s way by leaving my car running with open doors while chasing raptors. 🙂
My yard is looking pretty much the same as it has the past couple weeks, though I see a bit of “greening” going on. I did order a bunch of veggie seeds, and am dreaming about new native medicinal plants to grace the garden beds, with visions of flowers and bees in my head…
Until next time, enjoy the February gifts of biting-chill-that-makes-you-feel-alive and thank-goodness-there’s-warm-sunshine-to-bask-in days!