6:27 a.m. 54 degrees, wind NNW 6 mph, nuthatch red-eye, on the heels of the
cold front, filling the evergreens with disembodied toots; wind like
traffic, roars; sheltered beech leaves in motion, a foliar sibilance. Pine
crowns stir the air. Sky: ashen, textured, damp. Yesterday's warm rain
touched several peepers, which trilled in private from the leaf litter, the
tiny bells of spring. Pockets in the road, puddled. Permanent streams:
refreshed, fuller and louder . . . but far from capacity. Wetlands: staid.
High above the marsh, flying north, a pair of ravens, black between the
gray ceiling and tan floor, an occasional croak, leisurely flapping, an
unquenchable joy for life . . . Off to an appointment with a disemboweled
deer? Pond: surface, rippled and empty. Impressionistic reflections, *matin
Pine crowns, burdened with cones. A mast year. But, today, no sign of
crossbills. Two chattering red squirrels chase each other up and down and
around three pine trunks, toenails scratching bark, louder than the twitter
of beech leaves—a dizzying pursuit. Dogs sit, watch. Next spring should
produce a bumper crop of red squirrels—two litters per female. Up to six
kits weaned per litter. Nestlings beware. Raptors prepare.
My mother, one of eleven siblings, born to parents from Eastern Europe,
neither of whom spoke English when they reached Ellis Island. My
grandfather taught Hebrew, didn't handle money whenever he read the Torah,
which was about twice a week, and got around in a horse carriage. My
grandmother had a cow, chickens, and a large garden. Somehow, they managed
on the outskirts of Toledo, Ohio. They put-away borscht and brisket. As far
as I know, neither responded to a mast year.
This autumn's bumper crop of acorns and pinenuts, littering lawns, hanging
from trees, should trigger a *trophic cascade*, a flowering of white-footed
mice, red and gray squirrels, chipmunks, flying squirrels. Next spring,
Copper's hawks and goshawks, both small to mid-sized bird
terrorists—spirited, relentless predators—ought to cash in on an
abundance of small mammals, which in turn ought to be raiding songbird
nests . . . stealing eggs and chicks. A three- to five-year cycle: from
mast to rodents; more rodents fewer songbirds fledge. More rodents, more
hawks fledge. And, if you enjoy rattlesnakes (as I do), in two years, late
summer 2022, there will be more rattlesnake births on the Champlain ledges
. . . but that's another story.
My grandparents, tending garden and barnyard, far removed from the comforts
of a mast year . . . never had it so easy.