Today I saw a drowned worm on the sidewalk, the first of the year.  I think that might be an even more powerful harbinger of spring than the warm weather we had for a few days, or the tiny green leafbuds on the tree outside my bedroom window, or even the small, red growths on the rose bush that signify leaves and blooms in the future.  I think this is my favorite time of year, even if the contrary weather is currently making things bleak and gray.  Hints and promises are all over the place, like the small green spikes of flowering bulbs, and the beginnings of new growth on my thyme plants.

Also, all the yarn scraps left over from the pom-poms on Liv’s Hat of Awesomeness (more about that later) which I scattered on my windowsill yesterday have disappeared.  I hope that the birds have taken them for nesting material, not that they’ve simply blown away.  Our backyard is very bird-heavy these days.  It’s been fun identifying them.  We have a nesting pair of cardinals – the lady is so funny looking in her deep red brown feathers with that bright orange beak.  There are also finches, both plain and rosy, (I’m kind of excited about them, because I read that they’re one of the few birds aggressive enough to chase off the ever-present sparrows) and chickadees.  The chickadees were the most difficult to identify.  It took me a while to get a good look at them.  For a while I had convinced myself that the black and white bird that kept showing up on the suet feeder was a kind of woodpecker.  Then I saw a picture of chickadees in the bird feeder catalog and immediately recognized the birds in my backyard.  Now every time I hear them sing it makes me smile.

Something else that makes me smile is my Swing Club kids.  They’ve started coming out to more of the local swing events, which has been delightful.  There’s a lot of them, so I’ve been borrowing my parents’ van to chauffeur them around.  On Saturday I took them out to the monthly dance.  They were a huge hit with the regular swing people.  They’re so young and excited and, well, innocent.  (Mark: “They’re like swing dancers before Original Sin.”)  I enjoy watching them.  They’re not the best dancers by a long shot – there are almost universal frame problems, footwork issues, etc. – but they’re learning and growing at such a pace!  Plus, they’re just so cute!  They’re very sick of that adjective, and I don’t blame them, but it fits so exactly there’s simply no other word to use.  Several of them will be taking the Balboa workshop this month, more than will fit in my car, so I’m borrowing the van every Wednesday to take them.  I can’t wait!

The squirrels have discovered my bird feeder again. I used to have a feeder suction cupped to the outside of the dining room window. The birds flocked to it, even getting all territorial and aggressive with each other over it. I swear, there was seriously bird gang warfare going on in my backyard over which birds could access the millet-y goodness inside the feeder. (What can I say? It’s a rough neighborhood!) Then one day I heard an extra big thump on the window. I looked up to see a squirrel sprawled across the feeder ledge, paws scrabbling for purchase. His body blocked the feeder ports, so he couldn’t actually get at the food. I laughed at the futility of his efforts, and figured that was an end to it. But no. Squirrels are wiley. A little while after that I found one of the feeder ports torn off the side of the feeder. I was able to replace it, and I figured it for a fluke. Then I came home one day to find the entire bird feeder upside down, twisted entirely around on its supports, the lid off and all the seed spilled on the ground beneath. That was the last straw. I took the feeder down until I could find something a little more squirrel-proof.

Then Ed gave me a bird feeder for Christmas. It was awesome, built with a cage around the seed with spaces big enough for birds to comfortably get through, but not squirrels. However, I needed something to hang it from. When I went shopping, I found that the store was having a 20% off all wild bird feeding stuff sale. Plus, there was the perfect feeder to take the place of my old one. This one had the perching posts mounted on springs. While birds are light enough to perch and eat, squirrels are too heavy. The perch gives under their weight, dumping them to the ground and coincidentally shutting a trap door across the feeding ports. There was a certain… satisfaction at the thought of thieving squirrels getting dumped. So I got it, along with an arm to fasten it to the deck, and lots of other bird feeding-related stuff. It took a little while for the birds to warm up to it, but pretty soon the gang warfare was on again.

However… yesterday I looked out my kitchen window to see the most horrible sight. A squirrel had found a way to circumvent the anti-squirrel protection. He was perched on the railing of the deck, snagging the bird feeder with one paw, and holding on to it while he stuck his entire head into the feeding port! Oh, I was mad! I used to think squirrels were cute, but all that fur doesn’t deceive me now! Little agents of evil. But they can’t beat me. I have a secret weapon up my sleeve. It’s called ground pepper. See, I’ve been told that birds don’t mind it, but squirrels can’t stand it. I just happen to have an industrial kitchen-sized cannister of it in my pantry, sitting around completely unused (I prefer to grind my pepper fresh when I need it). I marched myself right out to my deck, dumped a bunch of pepper into the top of the feeder, and stirred it in well with a wooden spoon.

Stupid squirrels.