Warm weather is still hesitating on the threshold of spring, as if debating whether to enter or let winter weather linger a little longer. There is a rumor circulating through the hills that spring is truly coming back. It was first whispered to the songbirds at daybreak, when the first pink rays of the sun revealed a fair day. They burst into a medley of praise, proclaiming the news that spring was indeed on her way.
The greening grass heard the news and sent a message down into its roots, where the newly formed buds of the violets and anemones heard the word and rejoiced. They began sending their heads upward through the warming soil, ready to greet spring.
A meandering breeze caught wind of the rumor and spread it to the trees, where the young maple buds turned red with joy. Other buds heard the whisper and opened up to listen. Of course the happy sunbeams couldn’t keep it to themselves, but beamed the news to every hill and valley-spring was returning! From the deadness and cold of winter, she was coming back to the hills to bring new life and renewed hope. The most longed for and eagerly awaited season is here.
Spring continues the life cycle of our woodland animals, and many new babies are already here. Through the years we have raised a number of orphaned baby animals, from featherless robins to a number of groundhogs. (I think the worst was a pair of crows!) Matthew couldn’t resist a motherless duckling, or any helpless animal that needed care. One time Criss had to forcibly restrain him from bringing home some baby skunks. He mothered a Mallard duck that followed him like a dog.
I have bottle fed baby squirrels that became orphaned when a tree was cut down that contained their nest. They learned to suck from a pet nursing bottle, and were quite endearing as they clutched your finger and hung on for dear life. As much as we get attached to them, there comes a time when they must be released back into the woods, They were born to run free, and we had done our part in nurturing them. There is a pull on the heart-strings, and sometimes they are reluctant to leave.
I once raised a red-tailed hawk from a handful of feathers to a full grown bird. I caught minnows and hand fed him until he was able to make it on his own. Even after he was an adult bird (we never kept him confined anyway) and took to the skies, he came back all summer for a handout. When a red-tailed hawk sails through the skies now, I still think about my Henry.
He was a great tease. He loved to swoop down out of the air and buzz your head. One day Criss saw him swooping down and making a pass at our kitten. He yelled, “Henry is trying to catch your kitten!” He wasn’t-he was teasing him. His favorite game was teasing Matthew’s coon dog. We had him tied to the dog house with a chain (he was a big treeing Walker) and the hawk knew exactly how long the chain was. Henry would walk up as close as he could get safely and stomp his feet. Of course the dog would erupt in frenzied barking, but he couldn’t reach Henry.
We adopted another bird we dubbed Henry (before Henry the Hawk.) We weren’t sure what kind of baby bird it was that the kids found and brought home one time, but it was needy. “It had fallen out of the nest, Mommy, and you can’t let it die!” they wailed. It was back to the trusty shoe box that always makes an ideal bassinet for a baby animal. (The kids brought the animals home, but I was elected the instant mother.) I shoved worms down his throat with a toothpick, and soon he was screeching and demanding more. As he feathered out, it became obvious that he was a robin, and we dubbed him “Henry.” Later we discovered that Henry was a female, so he became “Henrietta.”
It was a busy time for me. At six o’clock in the morning I would be out in my gown and robe digging worms for my baby. After she was perfectly able to forage for herself, she would appear at my kitchen window promptly at six o’clock, demanding her breakfast. She would perch on a chestnut limb above my head, while I dug worms at her direction.
When we went to the garden to hoe, she would walk back and forth at the end of a row, loudly protesting until one of us took her an earthworm. For years, a mother robin built a nest every spring in the grape arbor. I am sure it was Henrietta.
It is a mistake to pet the domestic animals around the farm that will eventually be used for food. Matthew made a pet out of a young piglet that he called Charlotte. She was a beautiful pig, with silky black hair and long eyelashes. When she spied Matthew, she would flop over on her back so that he could scratch her belly. Needless to say, we couldn’t bear to butcher her, so we sold her. A friend told me that you should never name a pig “Arnold” that you planned to butcher. Can you imagine asking one of the kids at breakfast, “Do you want a slice of Arnold?” They couldn’t eat a bite of him.
We always petted the baby calves that were born in the spring, and when Daddy took them to market, I don’t know who bawled the loudest-us or the calves. We learned early that it was better to love and lose, then never to have loved at all.
Spring comes again to the hills, with her wildflowers and baby animal life. We welcome her. The garden is being prepared for planting, and plans made for the early crops. My friend Don Norman sent in a little ditty that they recited when they planted corn:
One for the cutworm,
And one for the crow,
And one to rot,
And one to grow.
Then we planted four grains of corn.
If seed was scarce, we said, “Oh, shoot” and planted three grains.
By Edwin Markham
Teach me, Father, how to go
Softly as the grasses grow;
Hush my soul to meet the shock
Of the wild world as a rock;
But my spirit, propt with power,
Make as simple as a flower.
Let the dry heart fill its cup,
Like a poppy looking up;
Let life lightly wear her crown
Like a poppy looking down.
Teach me, Father, how to be
Kind and patient as a tree.
Joyfully the crickets croon
Under shady oak at noon;
Beetle, on his mission bent,
Tarries in that cooling tent.
Let me, also, cheer a spot,
Hidden field or garden grot–
Place where passing souls can rest
On the way and be their best.
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