There I am, still in my flannel bathrobe one late March morning, when I hear a thunderous hammering outside my window. My initial thought is someone is building a house, but quickly I realize it’s the annual arrival of the pileated woodpecker, the first true harbinger of spring.
I grab my long-lens camera and tiptoe onto my deck in the freezing cold. I snap a couple of shots of the elusive bird, which is nearly 20 inches tall and sports a red crest and long, tapered beak. He is the spitting image of his cartoon doppelganger, which makes him appear unreal.
It’s 30 degrees on my mountain, but Woody’s return is a vernal affirmation that this endless winter will soon fade. While his smaller brethren — the hairy woodpecker and the downy woodpecker — are year-round guests at our bird feeder, Woody is a special emissary whose message is: “Abundance lies ahead.”
Spring hasn’t sprung yet this year. It has staggered and stumbled toward being a legitimate season. It’s teasing us with greening forsythia stems and poking tulip bulbs, but confusing us with 24-degree nights and April snowstorms.
Like Woody, humans are programmed to behave a certain way after the vernal equinox, which occurred March 20. We put away our skis, shake out indoor carpets outside on the deck railing, take out the compost pail and lower the thermostat — even though it isn’t any warmer than it was three weeks ago.
I have to thank my chickens for flooding me with hope. After four months of egg-laying dormancy, they are back in business. Whereas we’d get an occasional egg from late November through mid-March, we now have four or five a day from our six hens. Suddenly, we are under enormous pressure to make omelets and angel food cake.
As wintry as it appears outside my window, winter’s mute button has been turned off. In addition to joyous morning and evening birdsong, there’s the return of the power-tool symphony, zig-zagging away at tree branches that will become next year’s firewood. The loud rumble of earth is back again every day around noon, courtesy of the quarry’s blasts. The wheezing drill means my neighbor is once again sculpting his marble and bronze creations. Dogs have returned to the yards. Children are yelling with delight.
Of course, the onset of spring brings another ritual: budget season. Ah, what can be more renewing than learning how your school district, town and county will raise your taxes?
Our Nyack school district just hired a new superintendent, 55-year-old James Montesano. They plucked him out of Paramus, NJ, where Gov. Chris Christie has capped superintendent salaries at $175,000. The recent hire told our local reporters he’d planned to retire this year because he wasn’t willing to take a cut in salary. He didn’t have to: New York is the land of plenty. Here, Montesano can earn $237,000 — and still collect his New Jersey pension.
Then there’s the spring-cleaning itch. I can’t stop weeding — inside my house. In the past month, every cabinet and closet has been picked clean. Bookshelves have been thinned, furniture rearranged. I keep washing stuff and begging my husband to touch up scuffs on the walls with paint we have saved for six years.
This will be our sixth spring in suburbia. Yet, all we’ve bought for the deck are a couple of Adirondack chairs and a small iron bistro table-and-chair set. Last year, we built a lower patio that invites the pleasures of warm weather. So, I went online and purchased a suite of white wicker furniture with sage-green cushions.
The furniture arrived recently, on another day of sleet and snow. The whiteness of the wicker was stark against the steel-wool-gray sky. Nevertheless, my husband unpacked the goods and I arranged the suite. Let’s just call it the power of positive thinking.
Read more about Tina Traster’s move from the city to a rural suburb in “Burb Appeal: The Collection,” now available on Amazon.com. E-mail: [email protected]