Nick Varney

Nick Varney

Unhinged: Believe it or not, there’s a bright side

Don’t worry, I’m not going to jump into the COVID-19 kerfuffle.

Well, it has been a wickedly-weird few months hasn’t it?

Don’t worry, I’m not going to jump into the COVID-19 kerfuffle. There’s enough of point, counter point, snarks flooding the airwaves and newspapers.

The northern metropolitan Grim Reaper Gazette already features abundant articles penned by Lower 48 pundits of potential doom to make one want to submerge in a Xanax bath.

So, let’s play on the brighter side of things now that Old Man Winter has cooled his jets and retreated to his hovel of hibernation after kicking our keisters during his glacial reign.

It has been fascinating watching social media members expound about when spring officially arrives in our niche of the world.

Some declare it official when sandhill cranes glide over the horizon trumpeting their return and impatient to commence the requisite mating tangos prior to fashioning offspring shelters.

Other commenters express being stunned as they begin to spot missing gear lurking beneath the snow and ice of what now resembles a landfill rather than a yard.

Online squabbles break out as to when studded tires should be removed or utilized in the first place. Numerous stew about dodging thawing pooch poop on the sidewalks and trails while fervently coining colorful monikers for those who leave it behind.

As for Jane and I, we have our have own portents of spring.

There are individual birds that take up vista points around our cabin’s deck rails and moose mauled trees about the same time each year.

One day the land is ensconced in a silent cape of shimmering white and then this “springy” thing sneaks in along with the lingering daylight hours and we’re abruptly tramping around in mud up our nether regions while our spongy acreage morphs into a rest stop for migrating and summer resident returnees.

I’m talking about a noteworthy invasion of what seems to be the exact birds and mama-to-be moose or, at least, their direct descendants.

Add them as a side order to our local denizens of rabbits, weasels, an occasional black bear, plus wandering coyotes and it gets busy around here.

I have written a couple of times over the years about old Four-n-the-Mornin’, a huge robin that could belt out arias rivaling current opera stars plus a plethora of dead ones.

It would start its concerts every morning around four a.m. and wouldn’t cease serenading until it had every other feathered denizen in the area that could chirp, twitter, caw or screech forming flash choirs on our deck.

Once it had stirred things up enough, it would jet off to roost somewhere leaving us with the choice of staring at the ceiling listening to a cacophony of off-key Aves or rolling out of the rack to start the day with a mug of high octane brew and roar of our own to clear the railings.

Ole Four was so reliable that I did a bit of research and discovered that bird banders noted the longest known lifespan in the wild of an American robin is 14 years with an average lifespan of about 2 years and that only 25% of young robins survive the first year. I swear Four represented the Methuselah of the species.

It finally disappeared and its descendants have been much more polite. We no longer have break of dawn, shake-a-tail feather, raves rockin’ the rails until, at least, six a.m.

We do have a mystery surrounding one of our seasonal drop-ins and that is the identity of a diminutive feathered visitor that has the lungs of a rhino but is so small it’s like trying to spot a flawless crystal orb floating beneath waters of a pristine pool.

I never been able to figured out what kind energetic wee peeper it is but, wow, what a bellow. It can’t be over 3 inches tall yet it has a shoutout that sways its perch.

Lest I forget, the dawn of new beginnings has our feral pheasant roosters in an uproar challenging each other for the favors of hens demurely observing from the sidelines. The ladies seem to enjoy the dust-ups and idolize the strutting victors whilst dismissing the vanquished skulking into the underbrush dragging bent tail feathers while nursing shattered egos.

And so, it goes.

These may be trying times but they are accompanied by signs of a future to look forward to rather than run away from.

It is hard to feel confined when one can step outside and search the sky for eagles engaged in aerial acrobatics and quietly eavesdrop on the gossiping chatter of the tourist shorebirds below.

The menagerie tabernacle choir sounds especially beautiful this year and even the obnoxious squawks of the magpie are reassuring.

There can be drawbacks, of course. Four-n-the-Mornin’ has been replaced by an overly aggressive woodpecker that tends to pound our logs like grunge band drummer pumped on Double Dead coffee by Raven’s Brew. Not cool and not a good career move.

Nick Varney recently won first place, Best Humor, in the Alaska Press Club awards for his Unhinged columns. He can be reached at

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