Morning of our local St Patrick’s Day Parade, which is always held the Sunday after Mach 17. Parade starts after lunch. After breakfast there’s a 5K charity run. The race starts from the parking lot of the middle school right up the street. I’m having coffee on our front porch. The gun has gone off and I’m watching the crowd of runners, many in T-shirts that are bright yellow or red, official colors of this year’s race, I guess, chugging by with whoops and hollers and cheers of self-encouragement.
Past few years we’ve hosted a brunch for people from the blonde’s office who ran in the race or tagged along to cheer on their colleagues, friends, and loved ones. No brunch this year. Blonde decided we’d wind up with too many left-overs. Only a couple of the usual suspects entered this year. The novelty or the challenge has worn off for a lot of them. Age has caught up with some of the others. But I suspect the real cause of the fall-off of enthusiasm is that the two prettiest young women who used to come to cheer the gang on have both moved on to new jobs out of state and the younger guys don’t have anyone to show off for.
It’s too bad because this is the first year in a long while that we’ve had a nice day for the run and the parade. It’s not as nice as yesterday. More clouds, the breeze is stiffer, so it’s a bit chilly. Chillier here in the shadows on the porch. But the sun’s out and there are no puddles or snow drifts to wade through.
This is my second morning of coffee and blogging on the porch of the season. I’m sitting on the top step with my back against the post, not exactly comfortable but I’m not dragging out the porch furniture yet or putting away the snow shovels because I don’t want to give the weather gods any ideas. March may come in like a lion and go out like a lamb where the poets live, but around here most days it is just the tired, indecisive tail-end of winter and if the weather gods make up their minds to do something big on any given day it’s as likely to be a blizzard as a spring shower, with warm, or warmish, sunny days like today and yesterday tending to show up randomly throughout the month as pleasant surprises.
As far as the birds seem concerned, though, it’s spring. No human beings will be stopping by for a free meal, but I’ve got plenty of company out here. Robins, more robins, cardinals in the hedges at the far end of the yard, at least one mockingbird going back and forth from the roof to the ornamental I’ve never been able to identify, and a bold and inquisitive catbird who spends a lot of time in the holly bushes under the living room window. I don’t know if he lives there or regards it as his office, but whichever it is he thinks of it as his and he keeps hopping over from the bushes onto the porch railing to give me a challenging and inquisitive look, probably wondering what I think I’m doing intruding on his property.
The presence of robins isn’t the sure sign of spring I used to think it was. The robins aren’t back. Robins don’t come back because they don’t go away. Robins don’t migrate. They hide. When the weather starts to turn in the fall they take shelter in the deeper parts of the woods. There are whole flocks roosting in there, biding their time, and this is how they can fool you in the late winter because it’s not much of a haul for them to leave the woods for a snack and a look around on your front lawn during a thaw.
There’ll be a warm spell, the patches of brown grass will have grown in the yard, pushing back the snow to the shadow lines, birds that don’t go anywhere in the winter---blue jays and cardinals and chickadees and sparrows---have started acting friskier and making more noise, and then there’ll be a robin or two pulling at something in the dead leaves and people will think, Tra la, it’s spring! and dash inside to put away the snow shovels, change into shorts, and come running back outside ready to toss around the Frisbees and find themselves standing in a blizzard, snow up to their bare knees, and not a robin in sight, they’re back in the woods laughing at how they caught another one.
Robins have a mean, merciless laugh. Listen to them sometime.
I keep looking around and listening for our woodpecker. He wasn’t around yesterday either. I think he’s an early riser and finishes up his business in the neighborhood before the other birds clock in. Few days ago he woke me up with his drumming on the gutters of the house behind ours. I know better but in my grogginess I forgot and thought, “Stupid bird. What kind of bug you think you’re going to drill through metal to eat?”
Of course, when I’m fully awake and can think straight I know that when a woodpecker is pecking the way woodpeckers peck in cartoons he’s not trying to make a hole, he’s trying to make noise. What he, or she, females do it too, although not as insistently or often, is doing is called drumming, because that’s exactly what it is. Woodpeckers drum instead of sing but it’s their music and they make it for the same reason other birds do, to announce territorial boundaries and attract mates. When they want to put a hole in a tree to get at insects they dig and scratch with their beaks. Then they drum to show off and call out, “Look at these great holes I made. Want to join me for lunch?”
The race is over. Sore and tired-looking humans are wandering back from the finish line down by the firehouse. The birds are quieting down. The clouds are breaking up, the breeze is falling. It’s going to be quite warm for the parade. The parade assembles on our street. Pretty soon the bagpipers, Civil War re-enactors, leprechauns, step-dancers, and Boy Scout fife and drum corps will start to gather right in front of our house. I’d better get out of here before the driveway’s blocked by a float full of little kids dressed as shamrocks and sheep.
First beautiful day for a St Patrick’s Day parade in ages and wouldn’t you know it, I have to go to work.