Now it is thawing, but when I began this draft Janet and I were sitting in a powerless house with a ten inch burden of snow on branches and lawns and cars and walkways, and a chilly chilly nighttime forecast. I shifted to more urgent human-based chores of clearing walkways, shaking branches, checking pipes but my camera joined me outside. When not shoveling and scraping, my cold-clumsy hands fired dozens of camera shots in hopes of a few adequate ones. It is mostly a blessing to be knocked aside the head with the reminder of what is important and what is merely accustomed. We planned on stovetop cooking, heavy blankets, warm hats, candles, and hot water bottles. We thought we might reread some neglected book by flashlight and candle, but mostly we read power outage reports on a modern smart phone that miraculously kept enough of its charge.
A twelve hour power outage is an inconvenience, a conversation starter, not a lot more. Add two feet of snow and our urban 21st century lives slow to a stall. If the snow was to stick around, like it does for our Wyoming friends, we could adapt or move. But soak this remarkable three day accumulation with rain, and even the most cheerful fan of a snowy winter teeters on exasperation.
With snow, wildlife also assumes a new cadence. Visible at our front window is a suet cage. When snow is heavy so too is feeder traffic, up to a point. Any suet feeder draws in an extraordinary diversity of birds. As the white grows from 6 inches to 9 inches to 12 inches the steady stream of visitors also grows. Grey clouds of tiny kinetic bushtits tumble in; broadly varied juncos jostle about, ever-present and charming if rather thuggish; black-capped chickadees - the neighborhood guardians and messengers - arrive and depart on their own schedule.
Some diners are costumed in muted grays and whites, blacks and browns. Several visitors wear rakish eye stripes, fashion eyewear on woodland actors -- such as the Bewick’s wren, dressed in monochrome but dapper with eyestripe and jaunty tail, or the even bolder eyestripe adding to the remarkable rust and steel blue wardrobe of the red-breasted nuthatch. A few other suet eaters are blessed with full-on glam — the electric yellow face and throat of the Townsend warblers, the glowing red yarmulke on the male downy woodpecker’s head.
Our set-up is designed to exclude larger birds as well as squirrels and rats. Downy woodpeckers easily feed by clinging upside down, and Downy’s bigger cousin Hairy could too if our setting was more wild. But starlings and jays have the wrong feet, try as they do. Squirrels can make the leap and hold on tight so we add one more complication — hot pepper suet. Birds are insensitive to cayenne, but squirrels (and rats) take one bite, shake their faces, and jump off.