Winter begins officially on Dec. 21
Mother Nature has blown cold over the Valley only a few times, so late fall has been unusually warm. The few days of cold weather were mere teasers of winter, four days from officially arriving by man’s calendar. Another solstice arrives Dec. 21, the shortest day of the year.
The winter solstice is another beat in the pulse of time. All life survives by the rhythms of the pulse of time. When the clouds shroud the sun, some days are more dark than light. Winter simplifies life’s process where summer definitely diversifies it.
The nuthatch is a prominent winter visitor to bird feeders and is often referred to as the clown of cold weather. With chickadees, titmice and Downy woodpeckers, it looks for favorite foods in foraging guilds. There is more safety for birds in groups.
The nuthatch doesn’t clown around intentionally, but it has an air of absurdity. The bird is short, plump and has a long, slightly up tilted bill. Its beady eyes are set so close that it makes them appear to be crossed. Capping off the nuthatch’s unusual looks, it travels down a tree trunk head first. Although classified as a songbird, it makes a nasal “yank.”
The nuthatch isn’t a quarrelsome or noisy bird. It is a welcome winter guest among other birds and at backyard feeders. It caches seeds like titmice and chickadees for quick snacks. The female nuthatch plays the role of watch dog while her mate forages for food. She stays in constant verbal contact with him. At feeders, the pair usually takes one sunflower seed and flies to a nearby tree to eat it. They wedge it into the bark and whack away at it until it opens. They add variety to any feeder population.
During the holidays, it is my pleasure to share a few of the holiday stories from my childhood. My grandmother was the storyteller extraordinaire in the family. After dinner was finished, it was story time. Kids gathered round her, jockeying for a good position on the floor. One of my favorites was the journey of the Magi. As the audience of children aged, the story matured, which kept it interesting.
The Magi started their journey at the beginning of December in the dining room on the buffet. They would not arrive in the living room until Jan. 6, Epiphany. It was a long trip. My grandmother moved the mysterious men on camels weekly. Their camels were laden with supplies, and my grandmother was sure that they had not traveled together but met close to Jerusalem. Each one journeyed with a retinue fit for a king.
The dark-skinned Magi were from Africa and traveled with cheetahs. We learned much about the fastest cats on earth from the holiday story. Being kings, they traveled with their hunting falcons. The birds had incredible speed, intelligence and agility. The Magi’s retinue included cooks, servants and advisers. Setting up camp was a production.
Tents billowed, and camels hobbled. They could still browse on local grasses. Foods from the Orient, Africa and Turkey were prepared. A visit was made to all three Magi camps, especially where they cooked. Also, there was some camp gossip of the day shared. There was a good bit of simmering and bubbling over an open fire with exotic spices filling the air.
The Magi traded with people from different cultures along the way to keep supplies replenished. Each Magi traveled with a special gift for the child they sought. There was gold, frankincense, and myrrh - treasures and standard gifts for a king or deity in the ancient world. Gold was a precious metal, frankincense a perfume or incense and myrrh an anointing oil.
The kings, servants and advisers bathed in the creeks and streams along the way, and even washed their clothes. In camp they consulted ancient maps to stay on course. They didn’t pick up the luminous star until they arrived in Jerusalem.
On January 5 there were three camps of mysterious strangers with lots of people and animals camped in the fields close to Jerusalem. My grandmother’s tale included tidbits of speculation about who the strangers were. They visited with each other into the wee hours of the morning of January 6 to share stories.
Listeners who were still awake at the story’s end got a treat of a date-filled cookie. Grandmother also believed you never roused a sleeping child for a cookie.
Chipmunks have not hibernated, due to the warmer-than-normal late fall temperatures.
Keep out plenty of fresh water for drinking and bathing. Birds bathe in all kinds of weather.
May be always hear the whisper of wings.