The winners of this box, this year: Western bluebirds.
From a distance, not much has changed. Almost-mid-May from the house looks pretty much like just-past-mid-March. The difference, as it so often is, is in the details. The expanses of grass, passive and still eight weeks ago, are now host to fluttering, creeping, scurrying. The birds are back, the bugs are getting busy, and the rodents are out and about again.
After a few weeks of fierce squabbles, with males wing-beating one another to the ground, pairs of bluebirds have claimed the local nest boxes: Western bluebirds up near the house, Mountain bluebirds down by the barn. The couples are busy setting up the summer’s household and gleaning insects from the bunchgrasses.
Chipmunks, voles, and pocket gophers are on the move, a development less charming to me since they eat plants I want instead of insects I don’t. I’m not the only one who’s noticed them, however. I’ve seen as many as three red-tailed hawks at a time contemplatively soaring over the pastures south and west of the barn. I’m sorry to report to the soft-hearted among you that the gophers squeaking in alarm fills my heart with glee.
The pasqueflowers have popped up, running a little late. I don’t know what to read from the timing of their bloom, whether it’s a report on conditions from the passing winter, or a prediction about the coming summer, but I do know the fuzzy lavender cups elicit a surge of fondness out of proportion to their subtle color and modest stature.
Inside the garden walls, the snippets of color I was so desperately seeking two months ago have emerged in extravagant displays—concentrated and contained, to be sure, islands of green and purple and red and yellow scattered in the seas of brown that are the unplanted vegetable beds—but reassuringly bright. No worries, the tulips and chives and muscari and rhubarb seem to say, We’re back.
This is the Rocky Mountains, though, and even if springtime arrives with the heavy symbolism of renewal it carries throughout the temperate zones, this is perhaps the most fickle time of year in a region notable for its fickleness of weather. Sunshine one day is followed by gloom or fog or snow flurries the next. The temperature wanders up and down so fast I step outside to assess before I go for a walk: jacket and sun hat, or coat and woolly cap? Optimistic plans for washing blizzard-flung sludge off the windows or puttering in the garden, formed of a sunny dawn, are blown flat by a cold gale before I’ve finished my morning tea.
Ready for dinner, April 29.
And at this elevation, of course, April showers arrive in solid form.
As I prowled the garden happily in the waning days of April, framing pictures of the color I’d been craving for weeks, I knew change was in store. I’d been watching the forecast.
The snow started on Wednesday night, disintegrating to slush against the warm ground. The pace of accumulation was faster than the melting, and insulating batts thickened atop the slush. By dark on Friday we had more than twelve inches of wet spring snow on the ground, the biggest snowfall of the winter. Thanks to that one storm, we collected more snow in April than in January, February, and March combined.
The rhubarb patch, late April.
The snow never stopped melting from underneath, and didn’t last long. Within a few days, the splashes of color in the garden were back on display, even if the foliage was a bit flatter and bore some kinks and crimps.
I’m glad of the speedy re-emergence of color, whether it’s the blare of daffodils or the blue flash of a Mountain bluebird’s breeding plumage or the rhubarb’s red and green umbrellas slowly uncrinkling. Yet I find myself—fickle me!—also plotting how to hang on to the last vestiges of winter. This sounds ludicrous, given how long I’ve been itching for signs the season will end. But winter here is also water and, satisfied the world will not remain monochrome forever, my thoughts have now turned toward mulch. Dead, yes. Brown, also yes. But effective, too, at holding moisture, protecting the surface soils from the high-altitude solar intensity that’s on its way and the winds that never, really, stop. Those winds will slow down a little now, though, relaxing from their mulch-stripping pace. The blank spaces of the vegetable beds and the now-exposed flowerbeds around the house are crying out for a spring-weight blanket, a covering layer that will help them preserve the wet of snowmelt mud as long as possible.