The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, March 23, 2001


Spring red

For most people green is spring's color. The signs they look for are green spears of snowdrop, crocus, and daffodil piercing winter's mud. But to me, spring is red before it is green. It's not the bold red of cardinals singing loudly from hemlock tops, or even the pinkish red of swamp maple flowers opening. The spring reds I speak of are rust red, burnt orange, auburn, burnt umber and burnt sienna (if you are an artist), chestnut and bay (if you are a horse-lover); the red of a red-headed person, a red-tailed hawk, or a red fox.

While snow still covers the ground, suppressing green shoots, animals are preparing for spring. Red-tailed hawks circle over roadways, establishing nesting territories or migrating northward. In Carlisle, red-shouldered hawks have returned to the woods and swamps off Cross Street. I saw one perched on a pine overlooking the yard this morning. Its rusty shoulder was not visible, but the orangish breast and black-and-white tail announced my spring even more than the robin I saw pulling up dead leaves on the bare ground next to the house.

Perhaps the hawk was searching for something red to eat. The red squirrels and the red-backed voles that "share" our feeding station with juncos and sparrows were judiciously absent at that moment. Red-backed voles are small, short-tailed mouse relatives: grayish-brown with auburn backs. Their population soared last summer due to an abundance of forest mushrooms. They feed the hawk and the fox , whose den is full of new cubs.

I watched her yesterday as she walked discretely along the ridge back to her den in broad daylight. She glanced warily at my husband standing in our driveway, but he did not see her. From the window I admired her plush red coat. She looked well-fed on last year's abundance of rabbits and rodents.

In a couple of weeks the fox sparrows, named for their reddish color, will visit on their way back north. Then, in early April, the rusty-tailed thrushthe hermitwill return to join the titmice and chickadees singing in the woods, to help call up the green of spring.

Red Fox

A cold afternoon in late

winter. Shafts of weak sun

illuminate the snow around me

as I stand looking down

at a hole near our driveway.

Someone resides there. Earth

from within has dirtied

the doorstep, and vapor issues

from the oval opening.

My own

whitened breath meets the swift

exhalations of the vixen sleeping

inside; two steamy columns rise

and unite in beasty solidarity

before dispersing into colorless air.

But she will succumb to sickness

before the summer's end, all her

pups broken under automobiles.

I will abide a while longer,

craving more and more as I live

the wisdom of ephemeral springs:

the unhesitant greens,

the unquenchable red.

+YEAR+ The Carlisle Mosquito