Robins in the Snow

By Will Baker

On a recent morning, while taking my dog out for some exercise, a wonderful sight greeted me. Although it was gently snowing, and the ground was covered with white, the trees in my yard were full of little songbirds. For several months I have missed their song, but now they are back. And as an added bonus, there was a robin, hopping around on the ground and scratching at the snow. And sitting on a fence, in a most nonchalant manner, was a blood red cardinal. Now it is official, with the return of these harbingers, spring is very near.

The ground is blanketed with white, but below the snow, life is poised to burst forth. The buds are getting plump on the trees, the birds have returned and the sunlight is growing in duration and intensity. And the sap is flowing in the local "sugar bushes." For those unfamiliar with this expression, this refers to the maple trees, which are tapped by those wonderful folks that produce maple syrup. Yes, I am very much looking forward to witnessing this yearly spectacle of renewal and rebirth. For I know that, if I want to, I can burst forth with the spring as well. And I do want this very much.

I have said before that during each winter, we have the opportunity to die and then become reborn. But what exactly does this metaphor mean? It seems to me that it is all about change. When we winter-over, just as in every moment, we have the opportunity to change and move forward. However, in the northern winter, there are so many reminders of this fact that it is sometimes a little bit easier for me to stay focused on this notion than at other times of the year. During winter time in Vermont, we are surrounded by reminders of what was: fallen leaves blowing in the snow, empty bird nests sitting lonely in the trees, quiet solitude where once was a woodland bustling with activity, and garden plots that, having surrendered up their produce, now lie still and white. Even the waning daylight is a reminder that life seems to be retrenching…life and death, birth and renewal, winter and spring, change and move forward.

And then all at once, in a dizzying rush we find spring exploding upon us. And even the most jaded among us can feel our hearts lighten, if we let it happen. For perhaps the most important message that springtime can bring to us is that life is miraculous, and we are a part of it. We are not spectators to spring even if we sometime act that way. We have not wandered into a playhouse at some strange new place that we are visiting to find the players performing this play. No, we are the players, and this show has been running for a very long time.

So how do we make the most of this situation? It seems to me that we need to revel in the experience. We need to become primal, and center ourselves in the miracle that is occurring all about us. For adults, that most definitely means not "acting our ages." For what it implies, I deplore that expression. It seems to me that experiencing wonder is not immature. But if it is, then immaturity is the order of the day. The stage is set, spring is playing, and we are the cast of characters.

I have to chuckle at these first arrivals, and I wonder what these birds must be thinking as they scrape and pick in the snow. It seems to me that they are driven by their natural impulses to arrive early enough so that they have sufficient time to take care of the business of raising their young. And we humans have similar urges. The phrase, "Spring Fever" no doubt can be loosely related to what the songbirds must be experiencing. And the feelings that we sometimes have at this time of year, of wanderlust or the desire to get outside and involve ourselves in the natural world, demonstrates that we are very much connected to this magic show. But not as members of the audience, but more properly as part and parcel to the act itself.


 (Essay Collection)