A melodious, red-hearted song greeted me this morning on my saunter down the driveway to unlock the gate. It was a rose-breasted grosbeak at the tippity-top of a bare aspen. He was occupying a prized piece of real estate that grosbeaks often claim, especially this time of year, to announce his sexual prowess to prospective mates as well as his title to the acreage necessary to raise a family.

Below its black head, the grosbeak sports a large, red, inverted triangle on a white chest. The contrast of black, red and white geometry catches the eye immediately. Its song is a melodious warble similar to, but more musical than, a robin’s. It’s back and wings are also black with white and red highlights, perhaps making this bird the handsomest dandy of our neighborhood. The red-breasted grosbeak on a high perch is a visual and auditory harbinger of summer.

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Sitting in the sun this morning it was the warm, red heart of spring. Other birds were certainly whistling and chattering their own greetings to the warmth of morning after a frosty night, but the grosbeak’s perch, color and rolling melody was like a drum major appearing at the end of the block on the Fourth of July just before the band rounds the corner. You can hear and feel the excitement of the seasonal explosion about to come.

The Hut

I take this walk first thing every morning when I’m here. It’s a bit of a detour as I make my way between the hut and the shack, both one room cabins. The hut is a six-sided log cabin with a peaked roof. Years ago as we were batting around names to distinguish the two buildings a friend suggested we call it “the muffin” because of the resemblance. It is where we usually sleep.

The Shack

The shack is a more traditional 16′-by-20′ cabin that sits on a bend in a small river, a few hundred yards before it enters the St. Croix. With a screened porch across the front, it serves as the kitchen and dining and living rooms.The walk between the two usually takes about three minutes.

However, most mornings I don’t make a bee-line between the two and, instead, walk down the quarter mile down the driveway to open the gate. Usually I then indulge the urge to stroll down the town road a few hundred yards more – simply to greet and, as importantly, be greeted by the morning. At this time of the year, high spring, the morning holds warm greetings from many old friends calling from all quarters of the forest, sky and river.