Recording, Respecting Nature

Marsh Marigold

I’m not much good at keeping records even though I’d very much like to be. My so-called garden diary is a hit-and-miss affair and not really useful when consulted to see how things in the garden were in a certain year. 

But at the front of this garden diary (a three-ring binder with ruled paper) I try to keep a record of each year’s “firsts”: the first snowdrop, the first swallow, etc.

Most of these “firsts” are, of course, the harbingers of spring. No matter how much we love winter and the snow, it does drag on making us all long for spring and warmer weather. It is pleasant and interesting to keep track of when the first flower was seen or when the first migrating bird returned. And it’s not much trouble to record a date and a name (as opposed to that pathetic garden diary!)

My mother, I remember, had the practice of recording the first swallow of the year. I don’t think she kept other similar records. We were keen birdwatchers; and the birdhouse was always clean and ready for the swallows’ arrival. I suppose this is where I get the habit–both of keeping records and of maintaining birdhouses.

One of my favourite garden writers, the long gone Henry Mitchell who wrote a weekly column for the Washington Post, is very informative, wonderfully perceptive and extremely funny. He writes that Thomas Jefferson was a keen keeper of records and he was always after his daughters and grand-daughters to be more assiduous in their record-keeping: “…who did not (for the young rarely have steady habits) keep meticulous records such as the date of the first lilacs, the last fall of the beech leaves.” So my mother and I stand in a noble tradition (or at least we try!).

My records show that the Tree Swallows (always the first of the several species of swallow native to this area) arrived back on April 8/22, April 8/21, April 6/20 and April 12/19. That’s amazingly consistent; and if I remember correctly it is very similar to my childhood in Whitby. As we all know, the weather in early April is anything but kind and how these seemingly fragile, insect-eating birds survive those early spring days is beyond me. This year is a case in point.

Another true harbinger of spring is the Red-winged Blackbird. The handsome males with their glossy black plumage, startlingly bright red and yellow shoulder markings, and their lusty call, arrive back even earlier than the Tree Swallows. My list of firsts shows: March 6/22, March 6/21, February 24/20 and March 10/19. Comparing these dates shows that 2019 was a late year for both of these birds. That’s one of the interesting things in keeping records.

My records for the first flowers, in particular our wildflowers such as Coltsfoot, Marsh Marigolds or Bloodroot, are unfortunately spottier. But these confirm that 2022 is a slow spring with the first blooms of the wildflowers above being a week or even two behind.

Record-keeping is one way I can show my respect for, and love of, Nature. We all know that our planet and its natural life are now under dire threat. Humanity has not been kind to Nature and we have created conditions which are causing many animal and plant species to perish. We must all do our part to change this.

I have been writing this column since January 2013 and I now think it’s time to call it quits. It has been my privilege to write about what I so love and admire. I hope you have enjoyed this column and learned something from it. Please continue admiring, loving and protecting our natural world. Get out! And enjoy!

GET OUT! by Glen Spurrell

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