When I was little my grandfather used to recite a silly poem to me every spring:
Spring has sprung,
The grass has riz,
I wonder where the birdies is!
Every year we would giggle like it was the first time we had thought of it. This year I find myself looking at the world the way I did as a child. Every day is a new wonder. What will the weather be? I don’t know where is comes from (in terms of patterns) or what the typical seasonal changes are. I can read about them but it is not the same as having lived through them, or having that ingrained sense of what is next without even thinking about it much.
This time of year in the NorthEast USA I would be moaning about the cold and the mud. But on the first sunny day – the kind where you only need a thick polar fleece and a hat, the kind where the first sping sun shines warm on the back of your neck- you would find me out in the yard doing my tour of the garden. What shape is the garden in? Will I have to do much raking this year? Did the Kale survive? Are the crocuses and daffodils peeking up ?? Not much will be happening yet but those first rays of warmth will make me feel hopeful. I will go back inside and have a cup of tea and be willing to wait the weeks it will take for the plants to push up through the frozen ground.
The willows will be thinking about getting green in about a month. About that same time I will see the patch of dark purple and yellow crocus at the end of my driveway shining in the afternoon sun. They are closed on my morning tour of signs of spring but by afternoon they open and shine to welcome spring.
In Shanghai spring is already here. I am amazed by it. The forsythia’s yellow skirt flouncing in the breeze, the birds are singing, the sky was even blue today. Winters here are not particularly cold but they are VERY grey. We go weeks at a stretch with nothing but grey, grey, and more grey, interspersed with rain. Ugh. So when the sky is blue and the thermometer pushes close to 10 C I am ready to get out and enjoy it!
I find many plants are the same here. There are the forsythia, the pussy willows, the paperwhites. But many are new and strange and I watch them every day to see just what they will do. There is a bush that I pass every day on the way to the gym that has kept me guessing. In the fall it lost it’s leaves. Then in mid winter it got these fat buds on it and I could see white peeking through. I wasn’t sure if they had been faked out by a warm day and would now die on a frosty night. Or would they bloom in the winter the way the pansies do here? I waited and watched. They stayed looking like sad, wet pompoms for months. I was sure they were dead. Then today, in the afternoon sun, they started to open. Their shiny white faces are bouncing in the breeze and make me smile.
The other mystery of Shanghai is the wild animal population. I am used to deer, turkeys, squirrels, even raccoons and skunks. Here we seem to have none of those. We have cats and dogs and a few birds. In fact, when we arrived in late August there were so few birds I was really nervous. I kept thinking about all the pesticides people use in Asia and about the book silent spring. A Shanghainese friend told me it was more likely that there were no birds because if there were any they would be eaten by the locals. As fall rolled around more birds arrived. It was then that it occurred to me that it was just too damn hot in August and those smart birds had gone north for the summer!
For the winter we have had pigeons, doves and sparrows, even a few chickadee looking birds. There is a big guy, about the size of a blue jay, who comes and sits on my balcony railing and sings his heart out. I keep trying to get a picture of him but he is very shy. I have never seen a bird like him before. During our first weeks here we walked everywhere. On our walks we noticed a very rhythmic humming/chirping sound coming from some trees. It didn’t come from all the trees, but from quite a few. The sound was very electric, almost like the extended sound of a bug zapper going off when a big moth hits it. We kept looking in the trees. Was it a bird? Was it a bug? Was it a big bug zapper? It was so constant and so loud that, even though we could see nothing, we were convinced that it must be some kind of Chinese system to keeps bugs or birds out of the trees. Then one day I noticed that the sound would stop when I got close to the tree and start up again as I stepped back to the sidewalk. I know the government here keeps a careful eye on foreigners but even I thought that a sophisticated system that shuts off to avoid detection, spread out over the city and placed in the trees, was unlikely. We never did see anything in the trees but as the temperature dropped the sound stopped. The buzzing trees fell silent. Yesterday, along with the forsythia and the little white pom pom flowers the trees started to buzz! Not the resounding racket that we heard in August. Just the first tentative buzzes. I am determined this year to figure out what it is. I have even learned how to say “what is that?” in Chinese, which I think will greatly increase my chances of success 🙂
PS. I saw this walking through a park just after I wrote this entry and I had to include it. It reminds me of scenes from Count Dracula or Vlad the Impaler! Perhaps this is what keeps the birds out of Shanghai.