Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

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White Snow, Black Branch, Red Bird

Sunday morning, February 15th, 6:55 a. m. I've just heard a sound I haven't heard since before Samhain. That's why I'm wearing this silly (my father would say “shit-eating”) grin.


Here in southern Minnesota we're back in deep freeze. After an all-too-brief Bridey's Spring, the interstellar cold has returned, deep space cold, the cold between the stars. In a landscape drained of color and sound, Winter reigns Interminable.

Then suddenly a red bird sings outside the window, and spring seems possible.

Cardinalis cardinalis. The cardinals are our very first returnees of the spring. Eaters of seeds, they don't go very far south to winter—Iowa, maybe—but they leave us a land nearly birdless, and of those that remain, none sing. Sparrows chirp, crows caw, hawks scree, but none of them carry a tune.


Then, just a little behind-time this year, but generally late in January or early in February—the old witches' calendar fits this landscape like a catskin glove—the males come back to claim their breeding territories. The females will follow a month or so from now, and the whole busy cycle of courtship, nesting, and child-rearing will begin yet again, but for now I sit and delight at the brave little speck of red on the black branch in a land white with snow.

Whoit-whoit-whoit-whoit. What-cheer! What-cheer! The cardinal that rousted me out of bed this morning was the front yard cardinal. The breeding territories seem to be relatively small; our little urban yard is big enough for two. The front-yard couple usually nest in the blue spruce, and the back-yard pair in the basswood. For now, this one is early bird, but soon the neighborhood will be a symphony of competing land-claims, the boys all singing their hearts out at each other. Well, don't we always?

O bright little being of the jaunty crest, the prissy beak, and the rippling, velvety, snow-melting song: welcome back.

We've missed you.








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Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.


  • Anne Forrester
    Anne Forrester Monday, 16 February 2015

    Gods, did this make me happy. What Cheer! What Cheer!

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