Heartspoken's View from the Bench series

I began this series of posts in late June, 2014, with a goal of teaching myself how to be more observant by exploring a small piece of the world right outside my door at different times of the year. You can do this yourself, whether you live in a country home or a city high rise. I'm stepping outside to sit on the Trex bench right underneath my kitchen window for no more than 10 to 20 minutes—equipped only with my cell phone's camera, a pair of binoculars, pen, and pad of paper—and report my observations: sights, sounds, smells, sensations. Call it a micro-exploration, but I think it will be fun to do it at different times of the year and watch the changes. We may not discover anything earth-shattering, but I'm sure by this time next year, we'll have trained ourselves to pay just a little closer attention to the tiny wonders all around us. To find all the posts in this series, use the category drop-down list in the right sidebar. You'll find “View from the Bench” under “Connect with Nature.”


The afternoon sun's last burst of light before sinking below the horizon.

January 9 at 4:30 PM

It's 26 degrees Fahrenheit as I bundle up to enjoy a different experience from my earlier “View From The Bench” observations. I had to scrape snow and ice off of my bench, and I made a cushion out of a thick beach towel. My down coat kept me very comfortable, in spite of the creeping cold of a late winter afternoon.

The sun has almost dipped below my neighbor's rooftop beyond our pine woods, but I caught its bright beam in this picture, throwing ever-lengthening shadows across the woods and yard.

A blanket of snow still covers the flowerbeds and yard—a remnant of the five inches of snow that fell four days ago when an “arctic vortex” swept through with its single-digit temperatures. I don't recognize all the tracks in the snow, but I definitely see bird, squirrel, rabbit, and human boot tracks. Snow caps the little boxwood bushes like hats on dark green sentinels.

All the leaves have fallen off the deciduous trees except for the American Beech tree and the Japanese maple. My Catalpa (see “Meet My Nature Neighbor: The Catalpa Tree”) is majestic in its stark skeleton against the sky, decorated only by the “cigar” seed pods still hanging from the bare branches.


Grasses in winter. Notice the trunk and a branch of the Catalpa tree in the upper left side of this photo.

My ornamental grasses have turned brown, but they're lovely in the winter, especially as they catch the beams of sunlight.

I scared away the birds from our feeding station, but I can hear the chirrup of an impatient woodpecker waiting for me to settle down. A Downy woodpecker (perhaps the one who was fussing at me) actually becomes the first daring creature back on the feeder, and I see him scooting inside the suet cage that protects the tasty treat from larger birds. It takes a full ten minutes for the other birds to work up their nerve to come back, and even then, they mostly scope things out in the apple tree, very few brave enough to actually come to the feeders.

Bird feeders waiting for the birds

Bird feeders waiting for the birds

As my ears get acclimated (and my nose begins to feel cold), I hear the distinctive cheep-cheep-cheep of the brilliant crimson cardinal as he works his way farther out on the limb of the apple tree, apparently trying to decide if it's safe to fly to the feeders. Oh, there he goes to the tray feeder, where he feasts on the black oil sunflower seed!

I soon begin to recognize others in the tree: a white-throated sparrow, a crimson male cardinal, a nuthatch progressing head-down along the vertical tree trunk, a Carolina wren with its perky tail and distinctive white eyebrow.

Where are the goldfinches? They are usually the most numerous.

The air is still—no movement of the wind sculpture. Thank goodness…it's cold enough without a wind chill.

Late afternoon light on the Massanutten mountains

Late afternoon light on the Massanutten mountains

A single jet trail appears over the silo in the distance to the northwest. As I watch, the sun sinks behind the hill and casts a dramatic beam over the tops of the trees to illuminate the Massanutten mountains to the east.

I guess the rest of the birds won't come to the feeders until I leave, and 20 minutes is long enough for me to be sitting outside in this temperature. I'm beginning to feel the cold seeping through my jeans where the coat doesn't cover my legs.

There's a beautiful stillness here, yet I know under the snow, there are living things waiting—dormant, perhaps, but very much alive.

Their time will come.



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