Hooray! Spring is here, in both fact and deed!
Last week’s passing equinox made it official. While clumps of nodding daffodils on the hillside, and all those perky robins dashing about the lawn, furnished nature’s proof-positive.
Of course it’s understandable why you might have been confused by recent weather. During the past couple of weeks, we’ve had sun, clouds, high winds, thunder, lightening, rain, sleet, and snow. Temperatures ranged from a balmy 70˚F high to a 16˚F bone-numbing low! The river came up eight feet.
Not that weather and seasonal progression ever go hand-in-hand during this vernal changeover. An Ohio spring doesn’t arrive without a good bit of waltzing to and fro — which can be rather discouraging to those who believe calendars actually reflect a season’s schedule, and naively expect the change to occur in a linear, steadily improving fashion.
Yet, while the short-term outlook may be disconcerting given all the weather intermingling, the long-term course is clear—the die undeniably cast. As daylight’s span increases, and days grow incrementally warmer, spring’s magic is invoked. The natural world simply can’t help but respond to this burgeoning trend of light and heat.
True, lawn and meadow are still more brown than green. A few patches of onion grass, perhaps. But not much in the way of visible leaf growth on trees and shrubs — though if you look closely, you’ll find plenty of swelling buds.
However, the black willows along the streambank are turning a fine electric green. The withes on the big weeping willows, showing the honey glow of their quickening sap, have become great amber fountains. And red-osier dogwood stems are a startling scarlet.
I haven’t yet heard any trilling toads or singing peepers. But downy and hairy woodpeckers are drumming away, which is their percussionist method for broadcasting procreative intentions. Too, a pair of big pileateds, who live on the island across from the cottage, have been busily investigating a couple of elongated holes high up on a certain sycamore—trying to decide which opening has the better nest cavity.
Doves are inspecting the lower reaches of my sideyard’s pines and cedars. The little flycatchers, who regularly nest in a protected space between the wall-stones up near the cottage’s overhanging roof, facing the river, have already returned and started to do a bit of housecleaning from last year. Somewhat early, I’d think — though maybe not.
The Canada geese have been paired up and belligerently territorial for weeks. The “home couple” regularly crosses the channel to clamber up the bank to the feeding area by the front door — expecting their daily ration of cracked corn. There are pairs of mallards on the water, too, and several sets of wood ducks — the males’ mating plumage positively resplendent!
Most owls are already on the nest, and have been for awhile. As are the hawks. In fact, I suspect the pair of redtails, whose nest is located perhaps 75 yards downstream from the house, may have already hatched their young. At least they certainly now seem to be hard on the prowl for food. Every time I step outside, I hear their distinctive screams and look up to see them hunting, wheeling just above the treetops.
Not good news for the squirrels. For weeks now I’ve been watching my dozen or so homebody gray squirrels who regularly ply the sunflower seeds and corn I put out in various feeders. Squirrels are also currently caught up in the ancient zest of procreation — playing breathtaking games of tag in the sycamores, hackberries, and box elders which line the riverbank. Their speed as they scamper and dash, spiraling up, down and around limbs, is almost unbelievable.
Granted, it’s a frustrating and ultimately impossible endeavor to accurately count a bunch of semi-crazed squirrels. But I know their numbers are dwindling. At least one of their colleagues recently got snatched and ate. I watched a big redtail consume one as a hearty lunch. The bird draped its limp victim over a nearby limb, which allowed for easier dismantling.
My neighbor, a true mushrooming fanatic, is already talking about going out in search of morels. At least he was before last week’s snow. Though I share his fondness for these elusive treats, I try to temper my enthusiasm with a soupçon of common sense. By even the most optimistic reckoning, the mushroom season is probably still three weeks to a month away.
Wildflowers, however, are another story.
Back in the bogs, swamps, along woodsy ends of lakes and ponds, and scattered about the mucky edges of old creek oxbows, the odd and oft-overlooked skunk cabbage is in bloom—and has been for several weeks!
I hear snow trillium is up, too. And I’ve been meaning to make a drive to look for cheery yellow coltsfoot, which blooms along the rocky banks of a little seasonal creek which borders a large tract of woods I like to visit every spring. Coltsfoot often gets mistaken for dandelion. It should now be in bloom, as should trout lily, hepaticas, violets, and purple cress. To name just a few favorites.
In truth I adore spring’s dazzling array of wildflowers — especially the natives — and like them all too much to be picky. However, being true ephemerals, their season is hurried, their beauty short-lived. You have to make almost daily rambles to a variety of habitats or you’ll miss part of the show.
That’s the downside to spring’s coming. Ironic, even … how we wait and hope, looking, anticipating, longing for another lovely iteration of spring to grace our days. Which it does, eventually, in all its unambiguous green glory.
But it arrives in a rush — then zips past like a highballing freight. Which is why I urge you to enjoy every moment you can manage!
Jim McGuire, a nature columnist, resides in Englewood, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org