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Archaeologists ranging in age from 2 to 12 returned to the nursery site this summer. Normal digs turn up Matchbox cars from the 1970s, Lego constructions from across the decades, and dolls with ageless or 1980s costumes. This year one of them uncovered a drawing of girls — all but one of whom has a name printed above her.

As you can surmise from the careful positioning between the lines of a wide-ruled sheet of paper, the girls are less than a centimeter with their arms spayed. Sandy is the shortest at under a centimeter. Julie and the one who is not named are the tallest at about .75 of a centimeter. Each has a unique outfit. Most of them have pig- or pony-tails. Quite a few of them have pupils in their eyes. They are a universally happy gaggle of girls.

Who made that drawing and when? Who are the girls it depicts?

Girl doll drawing first half of the 1980s

Girl doll drawing

While I can hazard a guess to the answer to those questions, I will learn soon after I post this blog because a regular reader is the likely artist and will remember the reason for the drawing or at least who the girls are.

When this drawing was unearthed in the nursery, I was reading The Riddle of the Labyrinth, Margalit Fox’s book on the challenge of deciphering the mysterious clay tablets excavated on Crete in 1900. The British archaeologist, Arthur Evans, named the unknown language Linear B. The palace at Knossos in which he found the tablets — and he found about 1,000 of them — was build by a literate, sophisticated Bronze Age civilization that predated Classical Athens by a millennium. But Evans did not know which civilization produced the tablets or what language they were written in. The pictograms resemble no other language ever seen. No one ever found a Rosetta-stone-equivalent to make the deciphering of Linear B easier.

A page from Fox's book on Linear B

A page from Fox’s book on Linear B

Fox turns her potentially arcane topic into a gripping detective story and Column B above is a big clue! How do a few people pick their way though a problem for which there is absolutely no context? She explains, step-by-step, how a couple of dedicated souls working mostly independently spent half a century coaxing (as she calls it) the meaning from the pictograms.

Now, dear reader, I don’t see my problem of learning more about the girl drawing as being remotely similar. But the general demeanor of the nursery drawing with its fine detail, orderly alignment and its sign/signal quality — to borrow from semiotics and Derrida — seemed a minor variant on the mind-bendingly complex process of deciphering a code. For example, suppose one were to ask: based on what the drawing shows, what is the name of the unnamed girl? Then you’d move a fraction of a centimeter closer to the riddle Fox describes.

Now instead of doing any painstaking work, I’ll wait for the artist to fill me in — a luxury Ms. Kober (classicist at Brooklyn College) and Mr. Ventris (English architect) mentioned in that Linear B snippet never knew.

All I planned to do was clean up the bee hives. But four hours later having moved on to meadow clipping, I was startled to hear Bluebirds calling, Bluebirds fighting to be exact. Two males kept flying into each other, their wings whacking, while a female looked on. From time to time, a male would land on one of my Bluebird boxes. Then they’d fight again.

“I have three boxes,” I called out, “you needn’t squabble.” But there was only one female. The fight was over her not the boxes.

Find the Bluebird?

Meanwhile the Red-bellied woodpecker was picking away for the third day at a nest its making in the old Norway maple. In between pecks, it examined the perfectly round hole it has made and screeched with satisfaction.

Even a slow circling flyby on the part of the Red-tailed hawk could not deter the mating and nesting.

(You have to take my word for all this bird activity. My camera battery was dying and the birds are too small and distant for my point-and-shoot. I wished for the camera and their operators from the Panama birding team!)

The bad news, beside the dead bees, is that lots of Bittersweet stems still have life in them. But maybe an equal number of stems snap when touched and roots shed their orange sheaths when pulled from the ground.

My scratched wrists attest to the successful overwintering of lots of Dewberry. Its red stems are easily visible in the brown debris of last year’s foliage. I snipped 3 wheelbarrow’s worth of its prickly branches in the area to the south of the bee hives. While it grows together with the Bittersweet in that sunny, dry and sandy part of the meadow, I found almost no Dewberry when I moved to the south west corner of the meadow where its shady in the morning and again by mid afternoon and the soil is loamier and retains more moisture. Maybe that’s another piece of good spring news.

An Eastern bluebird alighted on one of the nesting boxes in the meadow. It was 15 January.

Last year, I saw a bluebird on a box on 2 April. That’s more the season when it might build a nest. But no bluebird honored me with a nest in one of my boxes last year.

The Eastern bluebird who came last spring but did not stay to nest.

This year’s bluebird might well be roosting here for the winter but might fly north later for nest building. The bluebirds looking to nest will come up from somewhere further south in the spring. After this year’s bird had flown, which also happened to be before I could snap a picture, I checked the contents of the box. A House wren had left behind a layer of twigs from an unfinished nest that I had not yet removed. But the twigs now also had some small blue feathers on them. Was the Bluebird adding insulation to a roost?

I checked the 2 other boxes. The middle one still had a Tree swallow’s nest from last season. That nest, lined with magnificent owl feathers, was such a gem that I had not wanted to remove it. The 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act prevents me from collecting feathers but I can leave them in the nest.

Owl feathers from a House wren's nest

The third box, with its special 1and a half inch diameter entry hole fashioned by a carpenter working on the house renovation of 2009-10, was empty. I had removed the wood chips that the House sparrow deposited last year when chiseling that special entry to a size that better suited him. If the House sparrows are gone, maybe a bluebird, maybe three bluebird families, will feel more comfortable and nest in the meadow come spring.

At least a dozen Dark-eyed juncos, the feathers on their backs and flanks darkened from overall slate-color to overall black by the determined snowfall, fed this morning on seeds of the Agastache. The White-tailed deer may have robbed the American robins of a treat of Winterberries, but another native plant has provided sustenance another native bird.

Dark-eyed juncos feed on Agastache seeds

Earlier this week (15 January) — the same day a Bluebird perched on a box I hope it will use in the spring to make a nest  — a sizable flock of European starlings descended on the many suet feeders much the way the robins came in for the Winterberries last year. The ground was frozen but not snow covered. Those waiting their turn at the suet feeders foraged with their powerful, straight, pointed bills for insects in the grasses at the meadow’s edge. With binoculars, I could see their larger finds: insects that looked like dirt covered grasshoppers. Were they shaking off the dirt or defrosting carcases as they shook their prey? Either way, I could see the advantage of the suet.

Starlings, fortunately, are not regulars at the feeders here. But on the 20th, the day of the second light snow of the season, the feeders were visited by the usual suspects in unusual numbers. The one usual bird I did not see that day was the Norther flicker. The birds who did show up included the Bluejay, the Downy woodpecker, the Red-bellied woodpecker, the Mourning dove, the Northern cardinal, the Tufted titmouse, the Dark-eyed junco, the White-breasted nuthatch, the Black-capped chickadee, and the White-throat sparrow.

A male Northern cardinal watches the snow all and waits his turn at the feeder in the branches of a Viburnum dentatum.

This year’s regulars no longer include the House sparrow in what appears to be a positive outcome of last year’s trapping program. The Grey squirrel population also has declined substantially but not quite to zero. The feeders stay full longer. Queuing up for a place at the feeders seems to work better without the House sparrows and the squirrels who took longer turns than the others.