In Our Own Backyard....Spring is – ‘springing!’My calendar is peppered with exclamation points these days. First pussy willows! First robin! Forsythia in bloom! First butterfly! Ice out!
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
My calendar is peppered with exclamation points these days.
First pussy willows! First robin! Forsythia in bloom! First butterfly! Ice out!
I tend to think of everything in terms of exclamation points because spring is happening so unexpectedly early this year. The buds have been out on the trees for a couple of weeks now, and the last of the snowdrifts along the shady woods trail where I walk has finally melted away. To experience any of these phenomena of spring is unusual before Easter, and to have them happen as early as March is almost unheard of.
Part of me wants to rejoice, and part of me wants to scream, “Slow down!”
I awoke last weekend to the music of birdsong outside the open window of our bedroom. The chickadees were singing their spring song, the pileated woodpecker was announcing to the world that he was “available,” and some unknown bird was singing a hauntingly beautiful melody I could not quite put my finger on. I noticed the goldfinches who visited my sunflower seed feeder had begun to show flashes of yellow, and flocks of slate-colored juncos and siskins were in a constant frenzy of motion between the trees and the feeder.
As I lay there in that semi-drowsy state typical of a Saturday morning, I suddenly heard a mournful wail in the distance. My eyes flew open. Then nothing. Only moments later I had convinced myself that I had imagined it when the wail came again. Once again, it was over almost before it began and I doubted if I’d heard it at all. When it sounded for the third time, however, I at last began to grin – our loon was back! I was incredulous, since the ice didn’t even go out in our little lake until late April last year. And while the loons are usually there hovering around when it does, I wondered how in the world they knew, when they left the Gulf of Mexico, that they would be able to get in to the lake that much earlier this year!
By afternoon, the sun had come out at last and I simply had to go out in my kayak and explore the lake once again!
As I stepped into my kayak and shoved off from shore, I breathed a gigantic sigh of contentment. It seemed as though it was only a few weeks ago that we’d been out skiing around the lake (and indeed, it was!). As the ice had started to darken and shrink, the double tracks of our ski trail stood out in stark relief, like the rails of a miniature railroad track. Following a weekend trip out of town, we returned home to discover the tracks were gone – and so was the ice!
I paddled toward the far side of the lake and spotted two eagles soaring over the pines, one at treetop level and the other directly above it, gliding on the air currents at a higher altitude. They nest there every year and cause a good deal of grief to the loons, so it almost seemed fitting that they, too, should lay claim to their territory at the very same time!
I nosed into a shallow bay, and I happened to look down just as I cruised past a painted turtle moving slowly along the lake bottom. I figured he must have recently emerged from his winter hideout in the mud and was slowly absorbing the rays of the early spring sun through the water.
As I eased my kayak down a narrow channel leading to a beaver dam, I spotted something unfamiliar in the middle of the channel. As I drew closer, I noticed it looked almost like the head and upper body of a dead duck or some other form of waterfowl suspended eerily under the water. I prayed that it wasn’t one of our loons. My kayak was almost over the top of it when I noticed that there were two giant front legs with claws on them, and I automatically recoiled, thinking it might be an animal swimming beneath the surface. But as it slowly came into focus, I realized that I was staring at one of the biggest snapping turtles I’ve ever seen – and it was staring back at me from beneath the water!
That was the way my entire outing went. Life was stirring all around me so fast I could barely grasp it. As I paused at the far end of the channel, I heard the sound of heavy wing beats and an osprey landed in a tree practically overhead. Further down the shoreline, I spotted a small, furry creature perched on the edge of the lake busily working at some unknown task. I zoomed in on it with my camera lens and still couldn’t quite make out what it was – until I downloaded the photos back at the house, enlarged them, and realized it was a very bemused-looking muskrat!
That afternoon in early springtime was just about as perfect as they get – until I got back to shore and spotted one other thing worthy of an exclamation point – a wood tick!