Sunday breakfast is usually a time of reflection for my wife and me. As we looked out over our snowless pastures, green lawn and full bird feeders, it seemed odd for the first week of February. It was then that I remembered seeing a bluebird pair on the fence while cutting wood on the first sunny day in weeks.

Is the metaphorical “canary in the coal mine” showing up on our farm actually blue? What is our state bird saying to us?

We pondered the reason. Has their migration pattern been disrupted? Do they sense an early spring? Was the farm and its ecosystem of plants, trees, berries, water and abundant birdhouses a better bet than flying all the way south? Are they the outliers that will spur a new generation of bird habits? Is it nature just being nature?

The full bird feeders indicate there is plenty of food in our environment to pass up this free meal. The squirrels are finding their nuts easily. The deer and turkeys are loving the free grazing. And I’m enjoying the savings in heating fuel and birdseed purchases. But I’m thinking “This ain’t normal,” and the lack of snow is perhaps signaling some impending challenge for us in the near future.

Is the canary blue?

Photo by Troy Bishopp

What I do know is open, unfrozen ground in February is hard on soil, plants and microbes which prefer a blanket of temperate snow. The damp temperatures in the 30s and 40s are hard on livestock performance (and farmers’ demeanors). It’s hard on maple trees which are giving up their sap earlier to hungry maple producers. The lack of snow may set us up for a crazy March-April storm event or bring on a never-seen-that narrative of dry weather. Folklore suggests “When February feels like May, the rest of the year there’s heck to pay.”

Google tells me “Ancient weather forecasting methods usually relied on local, observed patterns of events, also termed pattern recognition. Folks looked to the moon, stars, clouds, tides, wind patterns, leaves and animal behavior for a sense of what might happen. In 2024, we seem enamored with El Niño and La Niña climate patterns to forecast our weather fate.

Weather predictions (with sarcastic eye roll) are nothing new for folks who work the land. In fact, if you live in the Northeast, just wait five minutes and it will change. It might be time to revisit your resiliency plan for what comes next on the horizon. As you consider my observations, I hope you’re not blue.

by Troy Bishopp