Nature Connection: Sweet Anticipation

By: Mary Richmond

Mary Richmond

There’s a restlessness in the air. The birds are singing, urging the snow to melt and go away. The trees are limbering up, their sap rising, their buds filling out, their branches once again strong and flexible. A few hardy bees have been buzzing about and the snowdrops are in bloom, even through the icy coatings flung over them by careless Winter as he begins to pack his bags for his trip back around the sun. We, the people, are ready for spring.

Two years ago, our spring brought us an unwelcome visitor that has long overstayed its welcome. I know it has not disappeared and that we must remain on alert, but I think most of us are feeling a simple unfettered and unmasked joy as spring reappears on our calendars two whole years later.

It's hard not to run outside on every good day and work in the gardens, think about planting stuff and well, neatening everything up. Try to resist all that garden and yard cleanup if you can. Wait just a few more weeks. By now most of us are aware that our pollinators are at extreme risk of serious decline if not even disappearance. This isn’t just about a few annoying bugs. Without the bees and flies that pollinate our plants, there would be no food. Pollinators need our help and leaving the mess in the garden for a few more weeks is part of that help.

Many pollinators leave eggs or pupae behind each fall. Most adult insects die off each winter and without the new generation hatching, their population is threatened. Remember when fireflies were everywhere? Why don’t we see them now? Because we’ve killed them. Treating our lawns with pesticides and herbicides has killed the larvae that became the fireflies. It’s that simple. And this is true of many of our beneficial insects. We’ve just knocked them right out. Poisons don’t pick and choose. They just kill. When you apply a pesticide, even an organic one, to rid the garden of pests, you are also targeting those that you want to keep, whether you intend to or not.

Rodenticides are working their way through the food chain as well. When you kill or maim a mouse or rat with poison, it may be eaten by a dog, coyote, hawk, or owl. It may even be fed to babies. These larger predators then become sick and often die, as many a wildlife rehabilitator can tell you. It’s not just wild animals, either. Your dog or cat may eat a dead mouse or even one that’s slowed down by poison in your own home. 

As much as you want to rake out the garden, clean up the brush pile, burn the old leaves and pull out old grasses, weeds, or even old garden plants, try to resist a while longer. Many people have agreed to leave them in the fall but then undo their good work by cleaning up too soon in late winter or early spring. Our desire to start our spring cleaning as soon as the air starts to warm up is harmful to much of the wildlife we want to encourage. Concentrate instead on creating a new rain garden or turning over the compost pile. Have your soil tested or build it up by adding your homemade compost. Go take a walk in an area you’ve never been to before.

It's almost time to plant our seeds in the house and even a few of the hardiest outdoors, especially if we have a protected area or can use a cold frame to protect the tender new plants from sudden cold.

It’s also time to start watching for ospreys and piping plovers to arrive. If you’re lucky enough to live near a place where eagles hang out you might stumble upon a nest high up in a tree. Eagles don’t take well to staring, intrusive people, so if you do happen upon a nest, please report the location to Mass Audubon but perhaps not to your Facebook feed. Eagles will abandon a nest if they feel intruded upon.

Soon the spring wildflowers will be preparing to bloom, but now is the time to enjoy the pussy willows and skunk cabbage sprouts, our first true harbingers of spring in the plant world. Note, too, how the perennial plants are beginning to green up, whether they’re the grasses in the meadows or grasses in the marshes and dunes.

In just a few weeks baby rabbits will be around and the first frolics of baby foxes and coyotes will follow soon after that. Squirrels may be nesting with babies now, and possums, raccoons, and skunks won’t be far behind.

Anticipation is part of the sweetness of spring each year. It’s probably why we are so eager to get out and play in the dirt. We can’t wait for all those beautiful blooms and delicious tomatoes, but we really should know by now, spring can’t be rushed here on Cape Cod.

Enjoy the return of the migrating birds. Catch a timberdoodle show and listen for some pinkletinks. Put on your raincoat and rubber boots and slosh through the puddles and mud to see the annual salamander promenade to the vernal pools. Sit out in the backyard in the dark and watch the stars of winter slip from the sky as the stars of summer begin their journey to our part of the world. I realize it doesn’t actually happen that way, but for a few minutes we can be children again, marveling at the magic of it all.

It's time to dream once again of warm sunny days, this year hopefully without masks shading our smiles.