Phenology Journal: Reading Late Winter

By this point in January, enough small changes have accumulated to mark the close of the second season of the natural year (early winter – the first, deep winter – the second). The third phase, late winter, is the anteroom to early spring, growing the birdsong that fills the mornings of March, rousing small mammals to courtship, closing out more of the old year’s windfall seeding

Now comes the close of winter berryfall: the red honeysuckle berries have long ago fallen or been taken by birds. The evergreen winterberry (euonymous) vines and the bittersweet vines are bare. Hawthorn berries give way. Overwintering robins eat and scatter the crab apples.

Migrant crows join the resident crows. Juncos cluster, readying for migration north. Often riding the winds of thaw, flocks of starlings leave cut-over fields to cluster in town, sometimes accompanied by robins and blackbirds. The tufted titmouse calls every morning, and the most precocious male cardinals cry out to set their territories before sunup. Owls lay eggs. Skunks and opossums look for mates.

In order to recognize the dramatic effects of these events, in order to turn the lean narrative of late January into spring, I look between the lines, drift off a little as I read.

In his book, What We See When We Read, Peter Mendelsund emphasizes the role of imagination in reading and writing, the transformation of the text into a new private entity through synthesis, reduction.

“This is how we apprehend our world,” he says. “This is what humans do. Picturing stories is making reductions. Through reduction, we create meaning.”

Having experienced spring before, reliving the rebirth through memory, I anticipate and fantasize. I tell a new story, stepping from one sign to another, making sense.

According to Mendelsund, the reader or writer is never completely tied to words. “Much of our reading imagination comprises visual free association, “ he says. “Much of our reading imagination is untethered from the author’s text. (We daydream while reading.)”

From a birdcall or fallen berry, the observer fashions the landscape according to the daydream. Then the seasons become imaginary constructs, personal projections, reconfigurations of past time into time to come.


Bill Felker

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