Category Archives: Spring

Spring watch

The song of a House Finch awakened me this morning. It seemed so normal that for a moment I didn’t realize that this is the first day this year I have heard a finch singing outside our apartment. I opened my eyes, and said matter-of-factly, “That’s a House Finch.” I said this matter-of-factly, but inside I felt extraordinarily pleased.

Later in the morning, when I was putting on my shoes to go outside, Carol’s cross-country skis caught my eye, leaning in one corner of our little vestibule where they have been standing since the last big snowstorm we had in January. They looked odd and out-of-place, and before long I will put them away in the storage closet until next winter.

Spring watch

It was chilly and windy this afternoon, and I was feeling sorry for myself. It’s still winter, and it will probably snow again. The produce in the supermarkets has been limp and tasteless, as it always is at this time of year. The whole city has that sad, sorry look that New England cities get in midwinter, when unidentifiable trash has been blown into every corner where it will remain until spring when we finally get the energy to clean it up. The only good thing about February is that it is shorter than all the other months.

But then at four o’clock I went outside to take a walk, and the sun was brightly shining, and I realized that two months ago it would have been dark already at four o’clock. The days are getting longer very quickly, and the first day of spring is less than a month away.

Spring watch

Down on State Pier this afternoon, the Herring Gulls were strutting around as usual, looking to steal food from one another, or from another bird. They were looking particularly bright and cheerful today, and I finally realized why: almost all of the adults have finished molting, and they are now resplendent in their breeding season plumage.

This can only mean that breeding season is coming soon, or has already started. Because the rooftops of downtown New Bedford are the site of a Herring Gull nesting colony, this means we will soon have to listen as the Herring Gulls scream and squawk their love songs to one another on the roof of our building. I am not looking forward to Herring Gull nesting season.

Spring watch

Today it felt like spring had finally ended. It was warm and humid and sunny, and people were out sitting on their front porches, walking around, fishing from wharves. Tonight, the restaurant down the street had the first outdoor music of the year; as usual, hopelessly outdated popular music played by the equivalent of a bad wedding band. All of a sudden, I’m beginning to miss winter.

Spring watch

The weather was perfect for a long walk — cool, a stiff breeze blowing fog up off the harbor. I decided to walk to Fairhaven via Coggeshall St., returning via our usual walk along U.S. 6. When you walk in the city, you usually see lots of people, but not today.

I walked north, roughly following the old railroad siding at first. On the other side of the railroad yard I could see that the parking lot for the Martha’s Vineyard Ferry had lots of cars. It felt empty on my side of the railroad yard. There were a few trucks parked outside the Wharf Tavern, but all the other parking lots were mostly empty. One man rode his bicycle past on the other side of the road; he looked like he might have been one of the Mayans who work in the fish processing plants.

Off one corner of the old mill building at the corner of N. Front St. and Kilburn St., someone has fenced in a small yard; you can barely see a couple of picnic tables through the stockade fencing, and some green weeds growing around the bottom of the fence. As I walked by (at about five o’clock on a Saturday), I heard what sounded like twenty or so women talking in that little yard, and I could smell the cigarette smoke.

I walked under Interstate 195, and turned right onto Coggeshall St. A man walked towards me, swinging his arms across his body as he walked. He looked down as he passed me. I dodged my way across the entrance ramps from Coggeshall to the interstate, and then over the bridge across the Acushnet River (that far up, you can’t really call it New Bedford Harbor). A dozen boys on bikes, all about ten years old, rode up the sidewalk and the side of the road on the the other side of the bridge. They stopped to look down in the choppy waters of the river.

Once in Fairhaven, I cut down Beach St., and under the interstate via River St. Down one street, I saw a boy riding around in circles on his bike, but aside from that I saw no one. I climbed over the stone wall around Riverside Cemetery. Through the trees I saw a man walking his dog; and a couple of people tending a grave, the hatchback of their car open as they took something out.

From Riverside Cemetery, I walked down Main St. The only person I saw was a man standing on his front porch with a power blower, blowing dust into the bushes. Cars whizzed by on the road, but I had the sidewalk to myself.

The swing span bridge on U.S. 6 started swinging open to allow a deep-sea clam boat to enter the inner harbor. There were two young men waiting on the other side of the opening, and on the north side of U.S. 6 from me. As the bridge swung counterclockwise back into position, the two young men jumped onto the bridge’s south sidewalk as it swung past them, walked briskly across, and jumped off where I was standing as the bridge eased back into position. They were obviously proud of their daring, and talked boisterously, and drew deeply on their cigarettes.

Four or five people were fishing on the wharf on the New Bedford side, next to the ice company, wearing warm jackets against the stiff breeze. One young woman sat in the car and talked to the young men, maybe in Spanish or Kriolu.

They were the last people I saw until I got home. Not many people think cool, windy, foggy weather is perfect weather to be outdoors in.

Spring watch

at a ministers’ retreat, Wareham, Mass.

After the high winds died down midday, I went out for a walk in the woods around the retreat center. There were birds everywhere: after spending twenty four hours hunkered down in shelter from the gale, they were out busily feeding and defending their nesting territory. They were so busy that they paid little attention to me. I managed to get within eight feet of a Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, a tiny little bird: it was carrying a feather in its bill, presumably to add to its nest. And then I rounded a bend in a trail, just as a Wood Thrush started singing in a tree nearly over my head: that ethereally beautiful call, those four liquid notes, so close: it provoked a deeply emotional response, a surge in my heart, a lift in my spirits, a feeling of sudden intense joy. It sang twice, and flew away, and the moment was over.


This afternoon, when I walked out to my car, it was covered in pollen: spots of yellow about an eighth of an inch or less in diameter all over the burgundy paint of the car. It looked as though the tree under which it had been parked had dropped little pollen bombs all over it.

When Bill and I were setting up for tonight’s concert at the church, he heard me coughing. “New Bedford is number three in the state for high pollen count,” he said.

No wonder I felt slow and out-of-it all day. I’ve been breathing pollen soup, not air.

Spring watch

When I came down and looked at my car this morning, it was covered with a faint yellow haze of pollen.

The Herring Gulls that live on our rooftop are noisily amorous most of the day. I stuck my head up out of the skylight once and surprised them in the act. I was embarrassed, they were just pissed off.

One of the realities of living in a sea-side city is that when you walk down the streets on a damp spring day like today, every building seems to exude a faint moldy smell.

The sea ducks and loons have mostly headed north to breed. The seals have swum off to wherever it is that they breed. Now when I stand on the end of State Pier and look out, the surface of the harbor is empty, except for a few gulls.

I came around a corner and looked up at a tree covered in white blossoms. Right in the middle of the city, surrounded by drab stone buildings. It took my breath away.

Spring watch

Carol is friends with Eva, and Eva is a farmer who grows organic greens primarily for the restaurant trade. Carol and Eva have a deal: Carol goes now and then to pull weeds for Eva, for it is hard to find weeders, and in return Eva gives greens and other produce to Carol.

Today Carol went to Eva’s place and picked some greens in the green house: baby spinach, arugula, various kinds of lettuce, miner’s lettuce, and some other things that we couldn’t identify. These are the first locally-grown greens I’ve eaten all winter. The flavor was stunning.

All the “fresh” food they ship from California (or even farther away) is a couple of weeks old by the time it reaches the supermarket, and has lost most of its flavor and goodness. As for frozen and canned food, about all you can say is that it’s edible, and at this time of year it’s often better than the so-called “fresh” produce. And this is what we have to eat for most of the winter: it keeps you alive, but it doesn’t taste like much.

A month ago, I did manage to get some wintered-over parsnips which had been grown nearby, and they were very good indeed. But I had forgotten just how good fresh greens can be.