Friday, December 18, 2015

The moon of winter time . . .

This solstice moon, in the dark days of winter, still shines upon the chickadee, the owl, and the redpoll, but St. Jean de Brébeuf's old carol--or at least the English translation--is not far off: this is a birdless time of year.

A nesting box in mid-winter, snow on its roof, the entrance filled with nothing but cold air, is a strange figure on the landscape. It looks backward to the summer's rush of life and forward to new tenants in spring, but in the middle--here in the moment when it is hard to imagine either one--all is quiet, stilled to the breath of a sleeping deer mouse.

More than the absence of the swallow and the wren, though, these small domiciles resting beneath December's short light and snow call up thoughts of those who put them up and wait expectantly in spring: the one in the garden, crouched with a hand full of seeds, who stands to follow the small, feathered thing bearing a single twig, heading to the box and stuffing it in the entrance.

I took these photos last week at a farmstead that belongs to my wife's parents. Over the past thirty years, Jack, my father-in-law, has mounted many nest boxes and feeders in and around the aspen bush and garden space surrounding their summer home, near the town of Lanigan.

A civil engineer and road-building public servant as Saskatchewan's Deputy Minister of Highways for most of his career, Jack is now 84 years old, but he tends his acres of vegetables, flowers, trees and sheep's fescue with great love and more energy than most men half his age can muster up on a summer's day.

These are some of the bird nest boxes and feeders he maintains during the growing season. Next summer, when days are long and bright, Jack will be there with his hoe scratching the good earth, watching the bluebirds, wrens, and swallows as they take up residence, and counting the goldfinches at his feeders.

Merry Christmas to all who care for such things--whether you are someone with nest boxes to look after or someone with a thousand acres of native grass to tend.

And a special blessing to the many who have raised their voice this year on behalf of the prairie and the people who take care of it on our behalf.

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