Backyard Wonder

To the Moon and Back: Love, Birds, and the Mood Swings of March

Author Photo

Remember when birds flew to the moon for the winter? Probably not as it’s been a few hundred years since scientist Charles Morton hypothesized it, followed shortly thereafter by Francis Willughby who said, nope, hang on, let’s not get all weird about birds. Willughby literally wrote the book (actually a set of three) on birds. He was an avid researcher on birds, fish, insects, trees, and language. My kind of geek, but back to the birds and the moon and the people who believed it.

The idea didn’t seem unreasonable and probably wasn’t terribly hard to sell. Many a scholarly man, Aristotle and Pliny the Elder included, had previously championed ideas about birds that turn into other species in the cold months or dig themselves some underwater caves in which to hibernate. Besides, everyone could see that as the weather turned cold birds were no longer hanging around as they did all spring and summer. Sometimes flocks of birds would sail high on a clear evening, appearing to be headed right toward the moon. Assumptions were made. Or maybe it was the Winter Blues.

I know the birds aren’t flying to the moon when I see them gliding against an astonishing coral sky in winter. I like to think they’re enjoying an avian version of a Sunday drive to watch the sun drift into night before they head back to the nest. there’s still a sadness that roosts in the vacant branches of winter. The overness of my gardens takes my breath away, every year.

I do okay from September through Christmas, unless the sun hides behind the moon for more than three days. It’s January and February that envelop me, both slowly and all at once, like a draft coming under the door. The dark sky, from beginning to end of day, weighs me down. My dreams are Escher staircase-shaped, full of angst and deadlines, leaving traces of something sad or lost or unfinished on my skin all day.

February is the color of potholes. It’s the longest shortest month of the year. It feels like a cave. My birthday falls the last week of February and as far back as I can remember that day has felt less celebratory and more like a short-lived gasp of air in a sea of frigid, horizonless deep water.

“Life is March weather, savage and serene in one hour.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

But then comes March. Mad, maniacal March. It’s the Lucy-with-the-football of months, giving little moments of green and cheery birdsong, which swiftly swing into temper tantrums of ice and wind. But it’s the scratch art of spring, and physical proof of life.

Credit: Pinterest

When my niece turned three we had a party with friends of the family, one of whom is named Marge. It was March and we were talking about how March comes in like a lion, and my niece paused from her cake bite, alarm on her face, and asked, “Why does Marge come in like a lion?”

The same reason March does, I suppose, because she can. No matter how it comes, covered in ice, spitting sleet, howling, no matter. It brings longer days and daffodils, the first frog songs and the sweet breath of petrichor.

The birds fly back, from the moon or burrow out of their underground lair and gather bits of string and grass from last year’s garden to make homes for their eggs. Seeds are sprouting and buds are breaking.

My little world is waking up, warming up, calling me to come outside barefoot. And I go, giggling and whispering to the hellebore and iris and lilac and crocus.

“I’ve missed you. I love you. Let’s see where this month takes us.”

Writer, Master Gardener, Chaser of Wonder.
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