What happens to a Winter Count when Spring arrives? I’ve been asking myself this question. The changes started a number of weeks ago….the transition feels total now. The signposts arrived in blazing colors of yellow and red, the colors of the east and spring and sunrise in my medicine wheel.
Feathers found in the woods belonging to a Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker and a Northern Cardinal, perhaps a female owing to the dusky color.
The downy (‘plumulaceous’) feathers of a Northern Cardinal. These are body feathers so densely packed in we normally only see their red tips, except when a strong wind blows revealing the grey lower plumes.
A watercolor of my personal medicine wheel.
Some would call green the color of spring, but here at the very tip of the Island where our leaves are the last to arrive, long after everywhere else, I proclaim yellow the color of spring. The color of Forsythia…
Forced branches of forsythia brought inside when these buds were still tightly closed. In two days they had all opened, in just a small jar of water, sitting in a sunny window.
The color of Daffodils. The color of sunshine, following our week of heavy rains, the perfect combination for amphibious egg-layers and new plant growth. And the brilliant yellow of a female Hooded Warbler…
Digiscoped female Hooded warbler, Wilsonia citrina, in my backyard.
In this poor closeup, you can just see the curve of black around her face, which lends the namesake ‘hooded.’ The male’s hood is even more graphically pronounced. So far, no mate yet!
A slightly better exposure shows the olive-yellow back, the bright yellow face and the heavy black ‘hooded’ brow, reminiscent of a hijab.
She has been in my backyard solidly for the last two days, here to fill up on a copious feast of insects. Flitting. Flitting. Busy. Her tail like a pulse of light. She flicks it repeatedly, spreading her tail feathers just enough to reveal the outer edges of white, over and over, like a camera flash. Spring is all business for birds. Time bears down with the all-important task of procreation. That is a pulsing, too.
Color started to slowly enter at the end of February, with Christine’s ‘Honoring Voice’ workshop in North Haven. Already she too was looking toward spring, invoking a medicine wheel similar to mine, with winter in the north and spring in the east. It was warm enough to walk on the bayside pebbly beach, a tradition when we meet here, where we encountered the daily whelk collection of a fellow walker.
Christine’s thank-you note to us (to us?!) following her writing workshop that felt like the perfect bookend to her workshop in November which inaugurated our Winter Count. Photo by Christine Morro.
I was entranced by the silky, vibrant orange linings of the knobbed whelks. And brought one home to paint.
The Knobbed Whelk, Busycon carica.
In this view, you can see the knobs that give it its name, worn down by the erosive forces of the ocean. (The other species commonly found in our parts is the Channeled Whelk, Busycotypus canaliculatus.)
This painting I feel marks the transition between our Winter Count and looking toward the projects of spring…
The images above my desk, too, called out to be re-arranged. The card with the snowy owl put away. The perfect summer haiku, an old piece of my son’s artwork, brought out to replace it. My earth astrology card with my flicker totem joined it. Woodstock, my true-heart totem, in a tizzy of spring yellow at the center.
My wall of inspiration above my desk.
But the real giveaway that things were drawing to a close was when pink cherry blossoms snuck in to the repertoire.
Hand-watercolored cherry blossom notecards to say thank you to Emmett’s teachers for our class trip to Washington, D.C. That last snowstorm which missed us on Long Island still caught D.C., wiping out half the blossoms which would normally have bloomed.
On which trip, incidentally, I came across a real Native American Winter Count.
The Lone Dog Winter Count, belonging to a Lakota tribe, created in the 1800s. Part of the ‘Our Universes’ exhibition at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
Once the cherry blossoms appeared, I knew, my Winter Count had ended. I viewed ours as a project laid like a bridge across the cold, still, winter days between fall and spring. I feel my Winter Count is complete.
My completed Winter Count series of watercolors….portraits of objects from my nature altar, the sacred form of a cabinet of natural curiosities.
It began in shades of snow-covered landscapes – indigo, storm grey, pale pink – and ended in fire: shades of orange and coral. I finally gained a sense of ritual and routine around my work. My indigo owl mug filled with warm tea, Nina Simone playing on Pandora, little pools of pale color building a palette on a white saucer.
‘Owl by the Light of a Silvery Moon.’ Custom mug by Ayumi Horie.
I can see our Winter Count work as a small exhibition at the library. Our various approaches – paintings, poems, photographs – pinned to the walls. Narrow, waist-high tables beneath contain objects from our nature altars at home. I am certain we all have them.
I see glimmers of where these pieces might take me. I will continue them, but they will no longer be a Winter Count. I am ready for the next chapter. For the Count of Spring, and all the seasons beyond. These are now prayers at my Nature Altar. Singing praise. Bearing witness. Paying attention.
“Ancient religion and modern science agree: we are here to give praise. Or, to slightly tip the expression, to pay attention. Without us, the physicists who have espoused the anthropic principle tell us, the universe would be unwitnessed, and in a real sense not there at all. It exists, incredibly, for us. This formulation (knowing what we know of the universe’s ghastly extent) is more incredible, to our sense of things, than the Old Testament hypothesis of a God willing to suffer, coddle, instruct, and even (in the Book of Job) to debate with men, in order to realize the meager benefit of worship, of praise for His Creation. What we beyond doubt do have is our instinctive intellectual curiosity about the universe from the quasars down to the quarks, our wonder at existence itself, and an occasional surge of sheer blind gratitude for being here.”
– John Updike on The Meaning of Life.
“We are here to witness the creation and abet it. We are here to notice each thing so each thing gets noticed. Together we notice not only each mountain shadow and each stone on the beach but, especially, we notice the beautiful faces and complex natures of each other. We are here to bring to consciousness the beauty and power that are around us and to praise the people who are here with us. We witness our generation and our times. We watch the weather. Otherwise, creation would be playing to an empty house.”
-Annie Dillard on the Meaning of Life