As I settle in to write about the end of one year and the beginning of the new one, a flock of robins is busily stripping the holly tree I can see through the window of its berries. They are gorging themselves on this frigid but sunny afternoon and I can hear them chuckling back and forth as they work.
The berries we may see simply as pretty winter decorations are life saving food for birds like robins, cardinals, mockingbirds and cedar waxwings. As the year winds down, so does the food supply of many of our local birds and animals. Some, like the robins, have actually migrated here from farther north. Our breeding robins headed farther south months ago.
If you’ve been to a beach, pond or lake lately you’ve probably seen some of the ducks that come here to escape the harsher winters north and west of us. As long as we have open water, which is often most of the winter, they will be able to hunt and eat their favorite foods, fish and mollusks. In addition to our visiting ducks, both common and red throated loons can be seen here in winter as well as a few grebes. Their arrival is a sure sign the year is coming to an end.
Trees have lost their leaves, dunes and sand bars are being rearranged by wind and wild waters and hawks can be seen sitting out in the open, perusing the areas around them for their next meal. Yep, winter is here.
As the last days of 2019 linger and then race right off our calendars, it is time to contemplate new beginnings. Not only are we looking at a new year, but a new decade. Some of us couldn’t imagine this year but here it is and here are we, a little older, hopefully a little wiser and maybe, given today’s news, a little sadder.
A walk outdoors is good for just about everything and anything that ails us and at this time of year, signs of what is to come are everywhere. Stop and look at a few buds. Inside them is a whole world, a whole spring, summer and fall. They are tiny now, but not for long. Inside the bark of trees there is a lot of quiet growth going on.
Stop and look out over a pond. Beneath the dark water, brown with the tannin of fallen leaves, sleep frogs and turtles and countless immature insects. As soon as the light begins to strengthen enough to help warm the earth and water they will emerge, renewed and refreshed. Eggs that have been dormant in the cold and dark will hatch and the water will come alive with new life.
Under logs and under piles of leaves whole new colonies of invertebrates and plants are resting, ready to burst forth when the time is right.
As winter takes her place on our calendar and landscape, the light will actually begin to grow and lengthen once again. We still have a lot of dark nights ahead, but each day will add a few minutes of new light at both dawn and dusk.
As a new year begins to creep into our consciousness, it may be a good time to consider the costs of our choices on the environment we depend on. Most of us are aware that plastics are clogging up everything and that pouring poisons on our lawns and gardens isn’t a very smart choice living with a single source aquifer as we do.
Maybe this year we can look at our own behaviors and ways of consuming and make some changes. Many of us of a certain age remember a time before individual water bottles and single serve snacks in plastic packs. We also remember mending and making do, learning how to use a hammer and saw, having a kitchen garden and cooking from scratch. Unfortunately, these things have been labeled old-fashioned but for some, these will be new skills and a whole new generation is eager to learn them. There’s a lot of satisfaction in taking care of what you can.
As the old year leaves us and a new one waits in the wind, consider the natural world. What was old becomes new again, year after year. We are part of the natural world. There is still hope, one of the few things that can be both old and new at the very same time.