Commentary

Editor’s Notebook: The shape of things in April

April 6, 2022 5:50 am
A nest on an outdoor sill

A nest at the back of the barn remains vacant this spring. (Dana Wormald | New Hampshire Bulletin)

Just as Lake Winnipesaukee has ice-out, my family’s little sliver of land has mound-out: Spring isn’t really spring until the compacted snowbank in front of the barn is finally claimed by the April mud. Winter, I predict, will at last succumb to its fate in our dirt driveway by mid-morning on Saturday.

April demands of the property owner a review and assessment of winter’s toll – a mental cataloging of woodland casualties and terrestrial shifts. Snapped oak limbs and pine boughs are collected and laid to rest on the compost pile; run-off scars that meander toward the river are traced and smoothed by bootheels. If there’s a tragedy on the green it’s the trio of lifeless hydrangeas at the edge of the workshop’s northern face. They were planted just last spring – three pops of blue against yellowy beige – but they began slipping away before autumn’s first breath. I’m no botanist, but I can’t see their return to bloom even in this season of boundless hope.

A dirty snow patch in New Hamsphire
The last patch of snow on our side of town is in our driveway. (Dana Wormald | New Hampshire Bulletin)

Losing ground

At the river’s edge, a fragile peace built on a policy of containment appears shakier than ever this year. The poison ivy between lawn and riverbank makes no secret of its desire for expansion and now threatens to close access to the thinking rock and the water itself. My river-friendly attempt at demarcation failed in ’21; in fact, the repeated applications of diluted white vinegar, dish soap, and salt seem to have made things worse. 

Still, it is the lesser of two evils. A thick line of Japanese knotweed that runs perpendicular to the poison ivy grove will not rest until our small lawn becomes a thicket. While you can brush up against a knotweed leaf without fear of developing a rash, there’s no stopping the invasive plant’s advance. And pity the person who goes to battle armed with a sickle because Japanese knotweed has a superpower: rapid multiplication upon hasty removal. And so my summertime approach to the problem is practical and not unpleasant – I set up the hammock between river and knotweed tangle and imagine I’m napping at the edge of a great jungle.

Self-delusion is the inept landscaper’s greatest tool.

Comings and goings

Within the first week of calendar spring, what sounded like several dozen birds took up residence very close to the woodside wall of the family room. (Some mornings, and I say this without exaggeration, it seemed as if they were actually living within the walls.) Not only that, the birds made sounds – exotic sounds – I had never heard despite 50 years of listening to the soundtrack of northern New England. I was just starting to appreciate the auditory component of our emerging jungle theme when the birds fell silent. After a day or two of quiet, I walked outside to where I assumed they had been vacationing but found no evidence of anything: no nest at the junction of house and barn, no fallen feathers, no guano. 

In those first spring days, just before dawn on a sleepless morning, they raised such a ruckus that I half expected an official knock at the door stemming from a neighbor’s noise complaint. The birds were inconsiderate boarders – but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss them.

Landscape and memory

When I was a kid, there were certain landmarks and objects around our property that shaped my days of play. There was a boulder at the edge of the woods where my action figures did their mountain climbing and a pine grove where a tired marauder could set up camp. Up the hill a ways, there was a forbidden and treasure-strewn trail that was almost certainly a secret passage to a lost world. I have not seen boulder, grove, or trail as an adult and so they remain, thankfully, much as they were in the boy’s imagination.

I don’t attach special significance to many things in the yard these days, and I’ve ceased all marauding. Now I mainly see chores and potential problems during April’s review and assessment. But there’s one element of the landscape that I keep tabs on for reasons I can’t really explain. Up in the loft of the barn, there’s an old, hazy window looking out toward the neighbor’s yard. On the other side of the glass, resting on the outer sill, is just about the most beautifully designed and constructed nest I’ve seen. 

It’s vacant as far as I can tell – possibly out of reverence – but I’m ever hopeful that it will be a home again this season or next. For now, it’s enough that it and I have made it to another spring.

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Dana Wormald
Dana Wormald

Dana Wormald, a lifelong resident of New Hampshire, has been a newspaper editor for more than 25 years. He began his career on the Concord Monitor’s news desk in 1995 and later spent more than a decade at the New Hampshire Union Leader. In 2014, he returned to the Monitor to serve as opinion editor, a position he held until being named editor of the Bulletin.

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