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Monday, May 25, 2020
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Our Winter Flowers

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by Paula Moore Hurtt


     In the winter we live in shades of grey.

     Bare gray branches reach up 0to a cloudy sky.  The sun stays hidden, robbing the whole world of color.  Dawn and dusk seem to stretch too long into short winter days.  It can be a little depressing.
     Yet, there is a bright spot in the dark shades of winter…what my father called our “winter flowers”.
     He wasn't talking about Poinsettias or the Christmas Cactus.  He was referring to Cardinals, Blue Jays and Goldfinches who brave the winter chill along with the Red-tailed Hawk, the Hairy Woodpecker, the Tufted Titmouse, the Junco, the Chickadee and other winter birds who keep us company during the gray days of winter.  
     Dad worked as diligently on cultivation of his "winter flowers" as he did on his lettuce bed in early spring and his tomatoes in summer.  Before the first forecast of snow or ice, the bird feeder, which he had built and nailed to a fence post in the back yard, was cleaned out, rid of old wasp nests and readied for its wintertime visitors.  Then he hung a feeder or two in the cedar tree growing in the fence row nearby.  After all the feeders were readied, he made a trip to the farm supply store for a couple of bags of birdseed and some suet.
     The first snowfall of winter, he bundled up at dawn and headed out to the feeder with a couple of old coffee cans full of birdseed.  He filled the feeders, hung some suet in the cedar branches and then sprinkled some seed in a wide swath on the ground around the feeders to cut down on competition and hogging by the Jays. Then all there was left to do was get a cup of coffee, sit by the kitchen window and watch the party begin.
      Nothing brightened up a cold, gray winter morning than a flock of bright, noisy birds fluttering and fussing at the bird feeders outside.  The vivid blue of the Eastern Bluebirds and the yellow throats of the Goldfinches sang a colorful counterpoint to the vibrant red and bright whistles of the Cardinals and the deep blue wings and raucous calls of the big Blue Jays.
     As the winter wore on, Dad counted the birds each morning as the word got out in the animal kingdom that a feast was there for the taking on that ridge out in Bald Knob. By the end of the first week the numbers usually ranged up into the scores of birds. Each bright new species was noted and celebrated, while the Starlings..."dirty birds" Dad called them...were bemoaned and chased away.
Birds fought for space on the feeders, some hanging upside down, some standing in the seed and of course the selfish Jays standing atop them spending more time defending their territory than enjoying the feast.
     And there was no more beautiful Christmas tree than the cedar in the fence row decked out in bright ornamental Cardinals flitting from branch to branch.
     And so we enjoyed our "winter flowers" all season long until the last bag of bird seed was emptied, and the first brave crocuses raised their bright purple heads through the late winter snow.  



     Here’s a fun project to share with the grandkids:

     If you had a cut tree for Christmas, instead of throwing it away or burning it, set it up outside where you can see it from a window. Then decorate it with strings of popcorn and cranberries to attract Cardinals. Hang suet and oranges from the branches to attract Eastern Bluebirds and Brown Thrashers and nuts to bring in Blue Jays. Scatter some cracked corn around to attract Mourning Doves. Top it off with a feeder filled with thistle and sunflower seeds. We used to roll pine cones in peanut butter, then birdseed and hang them with ribbon.


     After your tree is all decked out with goodies, head inside, make some hot chocolate and settle in to watch the Cardinals, Downy Woodpeckers, Goldfinches, Blue Grosbeaks and Carolina Chickadees flutter in to decorate its branches. You and your grandchildren can even keep a journal of what birds visit your tree. Add photos of the birds or have the kids draw pictures of them. It's a great way to enjoy our "Winter Flowers."