I followed Calli onto the porch just before sunrise yesterday morning to check the morning temperature. It was her second trip outdoors that morning, as she had returned from her initial hunting foray into the pre-dawn darkness to gobble up some treats, drink some milk, and seek some reassuring attention from me. The sky was clear, and the outdoor air was crisp and cold with only a wisp of a breeze brushing intermittently against my face. The ground was now completely bare after a 26-day partial-to-complete snow cover that began on January 31 and lasted into February 2 giving us the longest partial snow cover we have experienced since the winter of 2009-10. The thermometer read 22 degrees—just right to excite Calli’s pent-up enthusiasm to hunt down an unsuspecting field mouse or bunny. The snow and persistent cold of February had kept her activities largely confined to the house and our front porch. She was now free to roam across our farm, her expeditions bounded only by the limits of her own apprehensions.
At first, I spotted the dark forms of four or five deer moving slowly across our hayfield towards the ravine, casually mowing a narrow swath of grass as they went. Calli was unmoved by their presence, as she has finally lost her appetite to chase deer. Eventually, my eyes were drawn upward into the deep blue glow of the sky, as the blanket of night gradually yielded to the morning sun that had yet to crest the nearest hills and mountains which remained cloaked in its shadows. I noticed the faint, twinkling lights of a few remaining morning stars that were brilliant enough to be seen in the brightening sky. But what really caught my attention was three thin, bright brush strokes of white that hung low above the dark, ragged horizon and were illuminated from behind by the rising sun. They looked to me like a trio of tiny, bright comets drifting low along the horizon, as though they were being swept along by the gentle morning breeze. They were, in fact, streaming contrails produced by three jets that had just departed from Dulles International Airport more than 100 miles east of our farm. I watched them for several minutes, as they flew south to destinations unknown.
Moments later, my focus on the contrails was diverted by the stirring sound of birdsong that was rising in intensity from the trees along the ravine to my left. The first bold tweets I heard were from a robin heralding the rising sun and calling the other birds to attention. Then I was greeted for the first time this year by the pleasantly familiar trilling sounds of a large flock of red-wing blackbirds that roosted among the trees. These seasonal aviators had just returned north to celebrate the return of spring. A few minutes later, I watched a handful of them float down to the base of the bird feeder in our front yard to feed on the sunflower seeds that our winter cardinals had casually littered on the ground. The scene called my mind back to an anonymous childhood rhyme we often recited to celebrate the change of seasons, “The spring has sprung, the grass has riz, I wonder where the birdies is.”
We certainly experienced a solid winter this year at Peeper Pond Farm. It seemed to coincide quite closely with “meteorological winter,” a term used by meteorologists to denote the three coldest months of the year (December, January, and February). Of course, the months that we define are just an arbitrary human construct in the grand scheme of things, and the natural world still marks the seasonal changes by the solstices and equinoxes that define the climatological (or astronomical) seasons. However, I will admit that the prevailing harsh winter weather pattern has retreated significantly in recent days, and a spring-like wave of warmth stormed into our area on the first of March driven by roaring winds. To date, we have received 33 inches of total snow that has fallen over 53 snowfall days. My records show that our thirty-year average snowfall amount is about 25 inches for an average winter season, and we can expect snow to fall on about fifty days. Actually, the 52 snowfall days we received by the end of February, which was the most we have collected by that date since I began keeping detailed winter records twelve winters ago. Our lowest recorded temperature to date was five degrees above zero on February 21, which is at the upper end of our average coldest day of the year. Also, we have not experienced a high temperature of 70 degrees or above since November 20, 2020. All of these observations tell me that we have completed an average or worse winter season regardless of the date, and we can now look forward to spring. It appears that Mother Nature agrees, and is granting us our wish.
Although our spring peepers have not emerged, we are hearing the cheerful return of the migratory birds and seeing daffodils, crocuses, and tulips emerge from the ground, even though snow has only recently disappeared from our landscape. An early spring would be welcome this year, as we eagerly await the birth of the first goat kid at our farm. We are more confident that Essie will give birth now that her udder appears to be enlarging. I have noticed that she is walking with a pronounced gait in her hind legs because she can suddenly feel it growing bigger and chafing against them as she walks. The return of warmer weather will certainly make it easier on her to give birth and easier on the kids to survive. We’ll have to hope that the transition holds, and I can get my hibernating muscles ready for early spring maintenance and chores. Best wishes to all of our loyal readers from Peeper Pond Farm.