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Summer is a promissory note signed in June, its’ long days spent and gone before you know it, and due to be repaid next January.

Hal Borland

We flipped the calendar and have put January in the rearview mirror. We’ve paid our dues a second time.

I prefer the seasonal calendar over the solar one. The spring months are March to May. Summer is June to August. Fall consists of September to November. And winter is December to February. That way winter is two thirds done now!

The clinker in that system is the month of March.

I view March like I did ninth graders when I was teaching junior high school. They were too old and cocky for junior high, and yet far too immature for high school. March has one foot in spring, and the other on frozen barren ground.

It has to go somewhere to keep the symmetry in the system, so spring it is.

Last year when Sue and I moved north and faced our first winter, we didn’t know what a full winter was like, living half-way to Santa’s workshop. We had sneak peeks from the many Christmases we had spent here through the years; but they were just snippets.

It was cold… check. It was snowy… check. It was long… check, and double-check. When we asked locals, they all said it was the hardest winter in the last decade or longer. We looked at each other and blinked. It didn’t seem that bad. Really.

How does one get through a northern Minnesota winter?

To me it’s the small things. Being chief fire-tender, takes up a fair amount of my day. Splitting kindling at ten below is almost musical, and takes one-fourth the effort.

A trail walk is also usually on the docket.

I’ve walked my trails hundreds of times. Like beach-combing it’s never the same twice. The snow records the nightly events that the other seasons only wish they could. It may be the ever-present set of deer tracks, or maybe a snowshoe rabbit. If I’m lucky, it could be an elusive fisher track. Each passing night is an ever-changing detective story.

Besides a bobber slowly sinking down a cylindrical ice portal, another of my favorite winter sights are my avian friends.

Winter reduces the bird population to an uber-hardy few. We have the normal upper mid-west winter residents. Jays, Crows, Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers, White and Red-Breasted Nuthatches, and of course, Chickadees.

My feeders have not been nearly as active with this balmy winter as last year.

Squirrel attacks have been virtually non-existent as their woodland booty is barely covered with the thinnest white covering. Their numerous tracks in the snow indicate a sizable population living well off the cleared homestead site, and are doing quite well.

I do however miss our infamous black squirrels. With the sharp increase in the price of black sunflower seed, and bird seed overall, due to a disastrous growing season in the Dakotas last summer, my sadness is tempered a bit.

Their absence is duly noted, however.

It had been a rather dull viewing season as far as birds go, then a week-long cold snap and high winds changed that at the end of January. It shook things up a bit.

First, a smattering of Purple Finches arrived, always cool. Then one morning looking over a steaming coffee mug, I noticed one, then three, then a horde of my favorite arctic buddies… The Redpolls had finally arrive!

This industrious little finch of the far north, can quickly change a drab day into a joyous festival of color and sound in seconds. Their frantic actions and  incessant chattering can fill the deck and surrounding trees in a heart-beat.

They also have to be one of the most nervous birds with the power of flight on the planet. I swear, when they hear two snowflakes collide in mid-air, it puts the whole flock into such a tizzy, no window in the house would be safe if they weighed half a pound. I have yet to have a casualty, but thumping at the windows usually indicates their presence.

The true stars of the winter landscape has to be our resident pair of Pileated Woodpeckers. Their ominous size brings respect and awe when ever they make carrier landings on the deck rail to attack the hanging suet feeder.

Attack is really not an overstated verb in this case.

The male, dubbed Barc Anthony, strikes the frozen suet with such voracity that he broke the connecting chain not once, but twice! I had to replace it with a heavy-duty cable-tie to withstand his feeding onslaughts. His mate, Cleopectra, seems to feed a bit more demurely, if a crow-sized, feathered jack hammer can be considered demure.

I’m writing this post on one of my favorite holidays, Groundhog’s Day.

I read this morning that Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow and deemed six more weeks of winter. Here on the gloomy shores of Child Lake, our resident woodchuck, Buxton Bill, not only did NOT see his shadow, but couldn’t even see his feet!

The fog being so thick. He said, “What winter?” Then flipped us the claw and crawled back in his hole.

So I wish all of you a continuing “sping-inter”, (Sorry Margie) and if you feel so moved, go put an extra scoop of seed in the feeders.

What could it hurt?

“I realized that If I had to choose, I would rather have birds than airplanes.”

Charles Lindbergh 

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