Thoughts on well-being, sustainability and those things that constitute a good life beyond consumption.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

May Day 2013

It is a blessing to have such a long-term relationship with a landscape that you become familiar with its most intimate details – its inhabitants, the phenophases of its plant life, its sounds and smells.  This is the time of year where we marvel at the miracle of migration as our summer neighbors return and begin to put things back in order.  Not only do species generally return to the same region each spring, but some seem to relocate their favorite tree.  How do they do that?

Today, the Ovenbirds and Black-and-white Warblers were on territory, trying to out-project each other.  (If you are familiar with these species, you know who wins this competition.)  The first Wood Thrush of the season was singing from our neighbor’s majestic spruce.  Pileated and Red-bellied Woodpeckers are hollering, and I heard incessant rapid-fire tapping on trees, most likely the old oaks.  Are they looking for food or a possible nesting site?

As I looked out at the Appalachian Mountain – known locally as the Kittatinny Ridge or Blue Mountain – I see the Serviceberry (Amelanchier Canadensis) at the highest altitudes are at the peak of their bloom.  Also known as Shadbush, this tree began to bloom on the south side of the mountain and in the valley to the south about two weeks ago, coinciding with the run of the fish of the same name.  At the lower elevations, the modified leaves or bracts of the dogwoods are emerging, revealing the small greenish, yellow flower buds within.  Is there a woodland tree more graceful?

In the woods, the sweet birch, maples, and aspen have their first small leaves, but the canopy is sparse, so you can still find the warblers and other birds perched on treetops.  The pollen count is high.  The sassafras has its yellow-green flowers and leaf buds.  Did you know that the stems, when scratched, smell like Fruit Loops?  A few weeks ago, the Spicebush was quite pungent.  Have you played Nature’s scratch and sniff game?

Emerging from the woods to the edges of our old farm, I see flowers on the plum and pear trees, and the apples are about to burst with fragrant blossoms.  When they do, the bees will move from the cherries to the apples, their buzzing louder than the spring peepers.  Barn swallows, catbirds, mockingbirds, sparrows of various types, robins, starlings, blue jays, and crows are darting back and forth and calling away.  A discordant chorus at times, but pleasing nonetheless, don't you think?

This is the time of year in eastern Pennsylvania where the temperatures are perfect – not too hot during the day, with crisp clear mornings.  It is the perfect time for the unwieldy growth of grass and weeds, but still too cool for the worst of the bugginess or to put out the tomato starts.

As I type this, Purple and Gold Finches in full breeding plumage are at the thistle feeder, joined occasionally by a migrating Pine Siskin.  They are being watched by an Eastern Phoebe at the top of our pear tree.  The phoebes usually build a nest under our deck, and this particular bird seems to be checking out this possibility again for this season.  The juncos left about a week ago, and today was the first day that I didn’t hear a White-throated Sparrow.  Have they moved on to their summer homes and friends farther north?

I hope that on this May Day, you have time to enjoy one of your favorite landscapes and to count the blessings that Mother Nature shares with us.


  1. is is just lovely Diane! Today I saw and heard snow geese overhead, a hundred or so, north bound. Beautiful. And up here we call serviceberry, saskatoon. Again thank you for a lovely May Day moment!

  2. I loved this, Diane! I could feel the breeze on my face, smell the bark, hear the birds. What a perfect portrait of an archetypal Pennsylvania spring day. Thank you.


  3. Thanks Stephen and Trileigh. You are both inspirations to me through your writing, careful observations, and deep respect for all living things.