Of Stars and Storms and the Other Snow Birds

By Gould, John | The Christian Science Monitor, February 2, 1998 | Go to article overview

Of Stars and Storms and the Other Snow Birds


Gould, John, The Christian Science Monitor


At Fort Kent chere Rosee, so petite,

Would sleep in a tent with one sheet,

But when it would snow And go fifty below, She'd head for Miami, toot sweet. It does not drop to 50 below every day at Fort Kent, and often the summers will be fairly mild, but it is true that a high number of folks in Fort Kent have places in Florida where they assemble in flocks to wait out the "heated term" to assemble again in northern Maine for the brisk days of sugar on snow and ice racing on the St. John River. Summer in Fort Kent is a happy moment. If you want to see the Bateese Menard, or perhaps Dominique Jalbert, between Labor Day and the Fourth of July, don't go to Fort Kent, Maine, the stronghold of Acadian culture, but seek these snow birds in Boca Raton or Vero Beach. The snow bunting is a bird indeed. It is classed as a songbird, but I've never heard one sing. This is because I've seen them only on the edge of a drifting winter snowstorm, and that is never an occasion for song. They are not a small bird, as songbirds go, but a bit over six inches. They always look white, except some show brownish when they run about. When a snow bunting flies, he shows wing patches of snowy white, and here in Maine we generally see them on the wing. They come with a heavy northeast snowstorm, sometimes in considerable flocks, and they are infrequent enough to cause our full attention when we see them. We know them to be buntings, but we call them snow birds. An honest State o' Maine snowstorm does, or should, follow its pattern. Morning will give us a high sky, sufficiently cold, and the sun, although lavish, will gat no heat. It is a lull, a weather breeder, and often ominous. As you step to the barn to chore up (some still do!) your heels creak on the old snow, and you feel in your bones that before long there'll be new snow. As the day advances, the sky fills in, and we know a lallapaloosa is on the make. Such a coastal snowstorm gathers in the southwest and works "back" into the northeast, and if it means business it will cast its first flake of snow on the instant of the afternoon high tide. You can count on it. Along in the afternoon there comes that rustle of wind that tells the tide has turned, and if you look up you'll see the storm begin. And the chances are that if you're by a field, you'll see the snow buntings arrive. You perhaps haven't seen one yet, even though the bird book says they winter south to the Carolinas. They don't, however, appear like the chickadees and the other feeder faithfuls, so must frequent the deeper woods. I don't know, but they will suddenly be with us, flitting ghost-like among the early flakes of a northeaster, and they will swarm over a field, probably gleaning some grass seeds, or looking for other food. …

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