2 March, 2014        Harbinger

harbinger n. One that indicates or foreshadows what is to come; a forerunner. tr.v. harbingered, harbingering, harbingers To signal the approach of; presage.

The American Heritage Dictionary (2011. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.)

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harbinger |ˈhärbənjər|        noun

a person or thing that announces or signals the approach of another: witch hazels are the harbingers of spring.

• a forerunner of something: these works were not yet opera, but they were the most important harbinger of opera.

ORIGIN Middle English: from Old French herbergere, from herbergier ‘provide lodging for,’ from herberge ‘lodging,’ from Old Saxon heriberga ‘shelter for an army, lodging’ (from heri ‘army’ + a Germanic base meaning ‘fortified place’), related to harbor. The term originally denoted a person who provided lodging, later one who went ahead to find lodgings for an army or for a nobleman and his retinue, hence, a herald (mid 16th cent).

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I began putting this post together a few days ago when it was warm and sunny and there were robins and crocuses and harbingers of spring everywhere I turned. Now it’s Sunday evening and the temperature’s dropped 15º in the last hour. The dogs and I hiked at the river today at 70º; tomorrow it won’t get out of the twenties! Tomorrow night it’s supposed to go down to 6º! They’re calling for 4” of snow tomorrow! But never fear. Spring will arrive.

The quintessential “harbinger of Spring” when I was growing up in Maryland in the 1960’s and ‘70’s was the robin. Here in Richmond in the early 21st century we have plenty of “overwintering” robins, that is, you can see them all year round. But they’re out in droves now. I saw this handsome fellow at Cheswick Park (<1 mile from my house)  on Friday:

A handsome male robin at Cheswick Park

A handsome male robin at Cheswick Park

When you’re looking for harbingers of spring, you would be hard-pressed to improve on spring peepers. They’re quite difficult (for me) to see. But boy do I hear them. They were out in force at Pony Pasture earlier this week. Here’s a little video I did. Spoiler alert: you can’t see any spring peepers. Only hear them. But try it out: Spring peepers

This is funny (to me) – I was looking for a link to put with the peepers. And I found the National Geographic link above. And when I clicked on it (you can click on it yourself and see) the caption under the picture was – I kid you not – “Harbinger of spring, calls of male spring peepers fill the evening air to entice females.” And the first sentence of the text was – again, I kid you not – “Spring peepers are to the amphibian world what American robins are to the bird world.” I just realized as I typed this that perhaps this is a reflection of being raised on a steady diet of National Geographic magazines. My father had a life subscription. Back when they used to have life subscriptions. That distinctive yellow border and square spine was a regular feature in our house when we grew up. I digress.

Mallards, as noted in previous posts, are prolific at PP. I was at the river earlier this week sans dogs; they’d just been to the groomer and I was trying to keep them clean. But I had to get my river fix so I went by myself. The mallards are much calmer when I don’t have dogs:

Don't those two look great together?

Don’t those two look great together? It looks like they’re standing on Astroturf.

Today I took Mackey and Turner plus I took another pair of sweet dogs who often visit the river with us, Lola and Luna. A fellow dog walker obliged us by taking our picture.

Mackey on the right. Turner under my left hand. Lola with her back to the camera. Luna between Lola and Mackey. The photographer's sweet dog in the foreground. So much fun.

Mackey on the right. Turner under my left hand. Lola with her back to the camera. Luna between Lola and Mackey. The photographer’s sweet dog in the foreground. So much fun.

This isn’t a great picture, but it’s certainly a harbinger of spring. All winter long the ground is frozen like a brick most of the time. As warmer weather comes it gets softer and the moles begin tunneling:

I don't see many moles. But they make themselves known.

I don’t see many moles. But they make their presence known.

A few flowers in the beds, but no wild ones yet, or none that I saw anyway. Some buds are showing though:

I am unable to identify this one. If you can, please enlighten me. If none of us get it, I’ll photograph it again when it develops something recognizable like a flower or a fruit:

I don't know what it's called. But my it's graceful.

I don’t know what it’s called. But my it’s graceful.

This one is (to me) marginally less graceful. Part of the reason for that is I took such an awful picture – my fault. But I know what it is, because I know how this bush buds out every year. It’s a multiflora rose and in May it will compete with the honeysuckle for the best smelling flower in the park:

Just add a few more daylight hours and some warmer weather and this will be a fragrant multiflora rose.

Just add a few more daylight hours and some warmer weather and this will be a fragrant multiflora rose.

I may have mentioned in an earlier post (last year or so) reading a book called Look at the Sky and Tell the Weather by a favorite author of mine, Eric Sloane. I’m not always able to tell the weather, but I look at the sky a lot. Sometimes it’s obvious like this. The blue on the left is cold air. The cloudy part on the right is warm air with lots of moisture:

Front coming in:

Front coming in:

A final harbinger of spring is the Iditarod, held the first Saturday of every March since 1973. It’s a 1,000 mile sled dog race held in Alaska but watching it is certainly (at least for me) an annual rite of Spring.

Never fear – we’ll all make it through this last blast of winter. As soon as this snow melts the flowers will bloom like mad.

An aside – today marks three years since I began this blog. This is approximately my 120th post. You can click on the links on the side and see what was happening in March of 2011, 2012, and 2013. I hope this blog is slowly improving.

Enjoy this last (hopefully) burst of winter and enjoy the wonderful weather that will follow. All best,


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About Jay McLaughlin

I am a rehabilitation counselor. I have many friends with autism and traumatic brain injuries. They help me learn new things constantly. I hike with dogs at the James River in Richmond - a lot. I've completed an Iron distance triathlon a year for 11 years. My most recent was in Wilmington, NC in November, 2013. I currently compete in mid-distance triathlons. And work and hike and take pictures and write and eat.
This entry was posted in Birds, Dogs, Flowers, Fun, People, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!). Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Harbinger

  1. Clare T says:

    loved this post – has a hint of hope in it – for spring!!!!!! i normally LOVE, with all capital letters, winter; however, call it old age, but this one has been particularly up close & personal…….funny how one’s perspective changes tho – when the temps rise to a balmy 40 degrees, everyone sheds the coats and paints on the sunscreen & cutoffs and hits the rocks @ pony pasture 🙂

    one day i was down at Pony Pasture and walking next to the chorus of the peepers – which has always been a harbinger for me of warmer temps to come 🙂 when it was hilariously interrupted as a large chocolate lab with an equally large stick in his mouth, bounced into the creek with the chirping frogs and their song was silenced, but that pup was having the time of his life! 🙂

    hope you & your family of canine enjoyed your sunday stroll – it was great seeing you and glad you got to meet my new pup, Becka Butterscotch – we didn’t make it passed the rock much – but hopefully one day she’ll feel more confident to try a trail or two……she may not be the outdoor dog as right now she’s snoring on the sofa behind me as i type……didn’t enjoy the snow – the cats did tho so maybe they will teach her!!!!

    congratulations on your blog anniversary – always learn alot, always visual & mental entertainment and appreciate your sharing your journeys with us 🙂 stay warm


  2. Cappy says:

    Great post! Great shots!

  3. Pingback: PP Fauna | NEWFAZE

  4. Pingback: “Well that’s a blessing!” | NEWFAZE

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