“The things most worth wanting are not available everywhere all the time.” —Alice Waters
When you hear the word February, what comes to mind? Ice, maybe? Wind. Sleet. Snowstorms.
Mud? We’ve had plenty of it this year, with warming temperatures in the Chicago Region and concentrated sunshine, turning our expectations for the frigid month upside down.
It’s a rollercoaster month. 50 degrees. Freezing. Snow. Spring-like temperatures.
In my backyard, hip boots are necessary to navigate the mud. As I make my way to the compost pile, swinging a container of coffee grounds and wilted lettuce leaves, the birds at the feeders take flight. So many!
Juncos. Cardinals. House finches.
A red-breasted nuthatch snatches a bit of suet.
In the evenings, the mourning doves gather on the heated bird baths for warmth, keeping a sleepy lookout for the Cooper’s hawk that frequents the backyard.
Did you know a group of mourning doves is called a “pitying” or “piteousness”? What a good collective noun! I see a few of these doves now, pecking along the porch for spilled seed.
In the mornings when I replenish the feeders, an eastern cottontail leaps away at my approach. She’s been snacking on birdseed. Birdseed? I read up on bunnies, and discover they like the sunflower, safflower, and other seeds that sift from the feeders.
If I look closely where the rabbit is foraging, I see our first spring bulbs are budding and blooming. Mixing these bulbs into the native prairie dropseed plantings along the back porch, where the flowers are easily visible from my kitchen window, makes doing the dishes less of a drudgery.
So cheerful! I’m ready for a few flowers. Bring them on!
Our herd of chubby squirrels barely acknowledges my treks through the backyard. Her again. They look up—hopefully?
Then, they return to their feeder reconnaissance. Lately, they’ve been nibbling holes in the finch socks packed with Nyjer seed. I didn’t think they’d eat Nyjer seed! Oh bother! as Winnie the Pooh says. Guess I’ll have to put a squirrel baffle on that feeder pole.
A glance at the prairie planting across the back of the yard tells me, yes, it’s February. Everything sags. The planting is in tatters. Most of the seeds have long fallen, and the skeletal remains of sneezeweed, Joe Pye, compass plant and prairie dock are bedraggled and worn.
I leave the native plants standing for insects who overwinter and use them as temporary housing. A friend suggested that I wait until temperatures are reliably in the 50s for a few weeks before I clean up my prairie patch, for that reason. I may also cut and stack some of the old foliage to the side if a prescribed burn is in the works before then. We’ll see what weather the end of the month brings.
Meanwhile, I visit nearby prairies. Just the sight of them lifts my spirits.
The sheer masses of native plants look less forlorn than my small prairie patches; there’s beauty in the aggregate. Snow? Depends on where you are. The snow still lingers on prairies a few miles north, where last week’s storm left a few inches behind.
Near me, the prairie trails are full of mud, with snow left in the shady spots. But—the joy of blazing blue skies! Those crosshatches of jet contrails and random clouds.
The smell of decay and fresh green shoots spearing through the mud and slush. The sound of running water as I cross the bridge over Willoway Brook.
The clamor of birds arriving and departing, both on the prairies and from my backyard feeders.
I’m going to miss you in a few weeks when we wrap up the month. Yes. Really.
Later, as I stand on the patio, I hear something. Faint, then…Louder. LOUDER.
I shield my eyes against the sun. It’s the sandhill cranes! They’re back!
My pulse quickens.
Spring? It’s on the way.
The opening quote was taken from This Organic Life: Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader by Joan Dye Gussow (2001). In her book, she includes the quote from Alice Waters (1944-), an American chef, food activist, and author of several cookbooks and a memoir. Waters’ promotion of organic, sustainable food choices and gardening have been influential in promoting sustainability and healthy food, especially for school children who benefited from her School Lunch Initiative and Edible Schoolyard programs. Read more about Waters here.
Join Cindy for a class or program!
Literary Gardens —In Person— March 7, 7-8:30 p.m.—In person. Hosted by the ELA Library and Lake Zurich Garden Club. Location change — now at St. Matthews Lutheran Church, Hawthorn Woods, IL. Free and open to the public. For more information, visit here.
Illinois’ Wild and Wonderful Early Bloomers ONLINE — March 15, 7-8:30 p.m., Hosted by Bensonville Public Library. Free and open to the public, but you must register for the link by calling the library. Contact information click here.
Illinois’ Wild and Wonderful Early Bloomers ONLINE –March 16, 7-8:30 p.m., Hosted by the Rock Valley Wild Ones. This event was formerly a blended program and is now online only. Open to the public; but you must register. Contact information is here.
The Morton Arboretum’s “Women in the Environment Series”: The Legacy of May T. Watts— (in person and online)—with lead instructor and Sterling Morton Librarian extraordinaire Rita Hassert. March 24, 10-11:30 a.m., Founders Room, Thornhill. Registration information available here.
See Cindy’s website for more spring programs and classes.
Bell Bowl Prairie in Rockford, IL, needs your help! Find out more on saving this threatened prairie remnant at SaveBellBowlPrairie.