It’s minus four, the first sunlight slips over the mountains, and the hummingbird is trying to decide whether he likes slushies or not. Looking portly for once thanks to his puffed up feathers, he perches at the feeder and dips his needle of a beak into the semi-frozen nectar again. Maybe the sugar is more concentrated in the bottom of the feeder now.
I watch how sunlight catches on his rusty back and wing feathers. He sits like anyone would on a cold morning, huddled, hunched, soaking up the promise of warmth. He takes another sip of slushy nectar. We treat hummingbirds like royalty – the only birds we have a feeder for, although grey jays and pine siskins also come to our cabin to feed.
First the snowfall and now two nights of solid frost. As I pull on my gumboots to go out and check how our greenhouse and garden have fared, the hummingbird zooms off his perch and shoots straight up into a willow. I entertain myself with thoughts of constructing feeders for the other birds. One to empty the mouse traps into, so the jays could pick up the little furry corpses at one central location instead of scrounging for them all around the cabin. The feeder for the pine siskins, fond of pecking at pee spots even after the yellow snow has gone, would be trickier: how to fill the feeder without making a mess?
I abandon the pine siskin feeder idea but figure that a mausoleum feeder (or mousoleum, more accurately) for the jays would be kind of fun. Perhaps there could also be a bigger version, dollhouse-sized, for ravens. Who knows, maybe there’s a real market for it out there, especially among city people – where would one dispose of a dead mouse without a yard? Non-chemical pest control and bird feed, composting and recycling all wrapped into one. What huge untapped potential.
This leads to the question why mice aren’t on the ingredient list of commercial cat food, considering that they are one of the most natural, free-range parts of a cat’s diet one can imagine. After all, how often would a domestic tabby kill a turkey, chicken, salmon, or cow when left to its own devices? It has always seemed strange to me that these species feature so large in the cat food industry.
I wonder idly if I’m totally bushed and unfit for society or if I have potentially hit upon a whole new cottage industry. But most likely it’s the former. Above my head, up in the willow, the hummingbird flits from catkin to catkin, droning like a miniature aircraft; my reminder that the days start early now and end late. Forget swine flu and bird flu (anyone still remember that one?), it’s spring fever that’s highly contagious. All this light that beats down from the sky like continuous slaps in the face and triggers hyperactivity, even in bush bums as Sam and me. Not only do the neurons in our brains zip around at a faster clip, leading our thoughts down strange garden paths – suddenly, we’re eager to get a lot of things done around the homestead.
Perhaps too eager as far as gardening is concerned, I worry and squint to see if the wood stove inside our greenhouse is still belching smoke into the air. The tomatoes, zucchinis and squash have already suffered through one cold night when the fire burned only feebly because the wood got hung up. Hardening off our Brussels sprout and cauliflower seedlings also went a bit too far when we forgot to bring them back inside one night. Oh well, that’s where natural selection comes in, I console myself. At least today, it’s a decent eight degrees inside the greenhouse and the poor seedlings still haven’t given up, I notice when I lift the covers off the raised beds.
For the rest of the morning, we’ll be busy with the Alaskan mill, making lumber out of a literal windfall: a few large trees that came down in winter storms. By next week, we should have enough lumber to extend our greenhouse. Things are looking great, even though the vole traps in the garden were empty. Good thing I’m not in the Kitty’s Filet of Mouse in Gravy business, after all.
Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.