Red-winged blackbird

The buglers of spring have arrived, and after our confining winter of the pandemic, not a moment too soon. They showed up in full dress uniform, the dissonance of their music welcome because in this season they play Reveille, not autumn’s Taps.

  I refer to the redwing blackbirds, in their lava-black finery, shoulders aflame with epaulets of scarlet.

  The redwings are creatures of routine, dependably showing up the week of St. Patrick’s Day. But this year was different, and I’ll take that as an invitation for optimism: They fluttered at our backyard feeder March 5, early and welcome. 

When it comes to forecasting, forget about the groundhog – no matter what he says, six more weeks of winter always lie ahead. The redwings, however, rely on weather, food supply, and primordial instinct as a more accurate guide to when they should return from snowbirding down south.

Their treetop cacophony announces that winter has grown frail, encouraging news as we dare anticipate better days. 

Here at Shalom Acres, our little hobby farm in Rhode Island’s Apple Valley, winter has been lengthened by the disturbing events of our times, the nightly wail of coyotes in our meadow, and the shrieks of weasel-like fishers in the woodlot beyond. 

Now, the approaching spring makes the appearance of otherwise unwelcome creatures cause for bouyancy. Our two Tibetan terriers (safely in the house) were excited one recent evening by the stirring of a normally repellent intruder: a skunk.

Since time out of mind, spring has re-lit the fires of hope and expectation; novelist Anita Krizzan put her finger on it when she wrote: “Spring will come and so will happiness. Hold on. Life will get warmer.”

Willa Cather, whose novels spoke of life on the Great Plains, put it this way:

“There was only – spring itself; the throb of it, the light restlessness, the vital essence of it everywhere: in the sky, in the swift clouds, in the pale sunshine, and in the warm, high wind—rising suddenly, sinking suddenly, impulsive and playful like a big puppy that pawed you and then lay down to be petted.”

W. Earl Hall, an Iowa newspaperman who got a journalism school named after him at the state university there, said it tightly, reporter-style: “Science has never drummed up quite as effective a tranquilizing agent as a sunny spring day.”

Spring has its way with us not just in the abstract, but in the actual. You can dig your hands into it, pick it up and squeeze it, grasp what makes the blossom and the root.

Botanist Luther Burbank put it succinctly: “Don’t wait for someone to bring you flowers. Plant your own garden and decorate your own soul.”

Or, in the words of author Margaret Atwood: “In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.” 

Children’s  author Suzanne Collins wove it all together when she wrote in her book Mockingjay: “What I need is the dandelion in the spring. The bright yellow that means rebirth instead of destruction. The promise that life can go on, no matter how bad our losses. That it can be good again.”

Gerry Goldstein ( is a retired Providence Journal editor and columnist.

Gerry Goldstein

Gerry Goldstein, an occasional contributor to What's Up, is a retired Providence Journal editor and columnist who has been writing for Rhode Island newspapers and magazines for 60 years