In Search of Spring

Although our winter here in the Blue Ridge has actually been pretty mild, I find myself longing to see green fields and hillsides once again. With only a few weeks of winter remaining, I set out to look for signs that winter is loosening its grip on the land and giving way to the season of renewal. My last walk was several days ago and I was amazed at how much the landscape had changed.

The growing moss pays no heed to the frigid temps of the water

The growing moss pays no heed to the frigid temps of South Buffalo Creek

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Another type of moss growing up through the leaves

Immature cones forming on terminal ends of Virginia Pine

Immature cones forming on Virginia Pine

Still another kind of moss

Still another kind of moss

The birds are also giving clues that spring is on its way. The Eastern Phoebes can be heard issuing their phoebe, phoebe calls as they check out our porch rafters for the choicest nest sites. I’m also seeing the Eastern Bluebirds once again that had retreated to lower elevations to escape the worst of winter, and a Northern Mockingbird pair is busy chasing intruders out of their favorite tangle of vines.

Although the nights are cold, it’s the breeding season for many animals. Last night, my husband and I were awakened by the shrill cries of a fox in the front yard. The cries, a little higher-pitched than a coyote, went on for about a minute. My first thought was of the chickens, but I knew they were safely locked up in the coop. Possibly, the fox was calling to attract a mate. 

The lengthening of the days is obvious to our hens, who have started laying again, so it’s just a matter of time until winter blows its last gasp. I just need to be patient.

There is a way that Nature speaks, that land speaks. Most of the time we are not patient enough, quiet enough, to pay attention to the story. — Linda Hogan

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Morning winter walk

Bill and I went for a walk around the farm a little earlier than usual this morning because the wind is supposed to pick up later today. We could feel heat from the sun on our backs and it felt good.

As soon as we got out a bit into the front field, I turned around and snapped a picture of the snow on top of the mountains behind the house. We didn’t get more than a dusting in the valley. The higher altitudes got more snow because of the colder temps.
Snow on the mountains

The pine trees in the front field that just a few months ago were nearly hidden by the tall grass are now very visible.

Young pine trees

There are a lot of hunters in our area, but we still have plenty of deer as evidenced by all the fresh tracks.
Deer tracks

Most of the Eastern hemlocks in our woods are dead or dying. They are under attack from the woolly adelgid, an aphid-like insect introduced into this country from East Asia that feeds on the sap of the hemlocks. The insect has infested hemlocks on the Blue Ridge Parkway for about 10 years and in Shenandoah National Park since the late 1980s. In these areas as many as 80 percent of the hemlocks have died due to infestation.

Here’s a hemlock on our property (in the very center of the picture) that is just starting to show the effects of infestation. Trees generally die within four to 10 years after infestation.
Infested eastern hemlock

Wingstem covered the fields with their yellow blossoms from late summer well into the fall. Now the dried stalks, reaching six feet into the air, are all that remain.

Wingstem stalks
Time to head back where cutting and splitting firewood is on the agenda and, of course, football playoffs. Callie was not excited about going home because she hadn’t finished checking out all the field mouse and vole hiding places. As usual, she brought up the rear as we headed home.

Callie coming home

An early morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.
~ Henry David Thoreau