February Transitions

Sat, 02/08/2014 - 3:00pm

On Block Island, in February, islanders count people like ornithologists count birds. During the snows of February’s first weekend, the Chinese New Year of the Horse was ushered in, Sea Hawks prevailed (not a mid-winter osprey return), Phil in Punxsutawney saw his shadow, and 931 people (the official B.I. 2014 Ground Hog Day census) — allegedly — slept on Block Island, and the Crazy-as-a-Coot bird walkers spied 18 species (mostly ducks).

February is a month of fun; and given the above, it is interesting to note how much of our fun is spirited from the non-human natural world. February is also a month of transition — again, largely marked by subtle yet powerful shifts observed in the natural world. We may start February hunkered down and focused inward around warm stoves and leisurely chats, scrabble games, and organizing last year’s photos and notes, but by February’s end we are venturing out in evening’s daylight, noticing the return of Red-winged blackbird trills, and starting seedlings for the next season.

February will also bring lots of other signs of nature’s stretching awake into a new season. Close observers will note not only the disappearance of ice from ponds but may also detect that a pond has flipped. (Upon thawing of the icy cold pond surface, the warmer and less dense water below will buoy to the surface while colder, heavier water descends, thoroughly mixing nutrients and oxygen — a catalyst for spring.)

More easily seen, but no less miraculous, is the transition from a stone-grey landscape of shad and bayberry, which suddenly becomes washed in a maroon haze of rubus buds. Watch for the shift of a wide, flat, hard-looking beach to a shapelier sloped and sandy beach strand, or suddenly piled with a bench of seaweed.

Listen, too, for the transitions of February: warming pond ice will boom and echo as it thaws and expands, chickadees will switch from their namesake call to their mate-attracting call of “feee-beee,” and crunchy walks will give way to the slurp and sucking steps of mud.

Other February transitions are more mundane and require that we ease toward chores and planning. At the Ocean View Foundation, that means searching for a Summer EcoWorker, starting butterfly weed seeds for May’s seedling giveaway, checking sky and tide charts for summer programs and announcing the Foundation’s recent acquisition of a new parcel of land in the Old Harbor. The bank lot on the south side of the east end of Water Street, across from the Old Harbor dock and abutting the OVF Pavilion site is hard for me to name — I associate that lot with Clayton Willis (a young girl’s memory, perhaps incorrect, of an older man who spent time dispensing fuel and feeding ducks and geese at the dock).

For OVF, this was an obvious acquisition, made to enhance an open space oasis bordered by throngs of commerce to the north, and the fragile edges of coastline and freshwater wetlands to the east and south. How this parcel will be utilized is not yet planned, but the overriding principle of the Ocean View Foundation, to facilitate a healthy connection between people and nature through environmental education and example, will continue to be our guide. The OVF would love to hear your stories and remembrances about this parcel, please help us learn about this bit of B.I. history by contacting us via FaceBook, email (info@oceanviewfoundation.org) or word of mouth.

For more opportunities to explore and witness the transitions of February join these Ocean View Foundation events and programs and take note of these special dates:

Feb. 14 at 5:30 p.m.: Full Moon Evening Walk at Hodge Preserve.

Feb. 14 – 17: Great Backyard Bird Count.

Feb. 18 at 8 a.m.: Crazy-as-a-Coot Bird Walk.

Feb. 25 at 6:30 p.m. at the Island Free Library: Film & Soup — “Trashed” (film).

Feb. 27: Winter Vacation Day Trip (Pequot Museum).

Feb. 28: Summer EcoWorker application deadline.