At Large: Pinkletinks aren’t the only tells


For you, it may be pinkletinks, or returning ospreys, or a brave crocus, but this year spring began in earnest when the snow stopped and the rain began.

For years, I thought shadbush was the longed-for harbinger. Among the abundant signs of gathering spring, shadbush flowers brightly along the road and in the woods where, at ground level, the Vineyard palette remains otherwise dullish. This spidery shrub, which is often called wild pear or juneberry, despite its bright white moment in April, is only beginning to catch the eye, because, naturally enough, despite the plaguey winter, the Vineyard spring matures slowly. One hopes for spring, yearns for it, dreams of it, but spring only means business when the northeast storm pushes by and, leaving the house in the morning, what strikes you in the face is not frigid, wind-whipped snow, but frigid, wind-whipped rain.

For a long time, I’ve looked for blooming shadbush to strike spring’s first sure note. It’s a member of the rose family, with white blossoms and small, dark blue fruit that may be eaten, although it’s slightly bitter. There are other, less cheery signs, and I’ve ignored them.

For instance, years ago when we lived in the country, the deer, numerous and hungry, signaled spring. They visited us early each morning, breakfasting on the plants near the house. In the city where we live now, Diesel, the aged 170-pound mastiff, now longer roams hopelessly, on guard against these poachers. But, he remembers. When he has one of his rumbling, leg-twitching, flatulent dreams, he is after those deer, or in terms of city wildlife, perhaps turkeys have taken the place of the deer. He is not forthcoming about his dreams.

In the mornings now, Diesel’s determined to be up and out about 4:30. I can hear him talking to himself. A low, rumbling growl signals that he’s sensed visitors. He alternates the growl with a whine that is a plea for someone to open the door and release him to the hunt. His genetic legacy of poacher-nabbing prowess, long lost in the clotted evolutionary mists, animates only his sleeping life. In his vast, gale-swept cranium, something stirs, and he sets out to check the property. Spring comes for Diesel now only in his dreams.

This mixed spring assessment continues. The squirrels are ravenous. They and the birds are  are tribalists of the worst sort, doing daily battle for power and nutrition. The neighborhood is littered with twigs, sticks, branches, and limbs (in ascending order) blown from the worthless oak and pine trees during the great easterlies of the last two months. Every one needs to be picked up and carted off, but first there are the roads to repair, the driveway to resurface, snow depressed bushes to be propped up, and the trim needs to be repainted.

The black compost used to mulch the gardens last spring is like cement a year later. The rain and snow have compressed it. Ought to use something else this year, maybe a mulch with a piney fragrance, more pleasant than the fetid aroma of these grim scrub oak woods all around us.

I’ve pruned the plants on the porch at the back of the house. They had lost their charm. The two plants, tiny when they went in the ground, now threaten the useful space on the porch. And they’ve accomplished all this without our help or husbandry. We know nothing, we’ve done nothing, and it’s worked splendidly.

There you have it. The news is, it’s spring, such as it is. The critters are hungry and restless. Winter’s damage must be undone. Nature is giving us a heads-up. You’ve been alerted.