Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Signs of Spring

            Our last few winters were so mild, I had considered setting out an orange orchard on a nearby hill.  After all, we moved into this house wearing t-shirts and shorts in December.  Since we have lived here, the weather has acted up once or twice, but never enough to justify the SUV I knew I would need when I moved to the country.  Last year, the snapdragons stayed green throughout the entire winter.  Mother Nature lulled me into complacency, and I forgot some of the nastier facts about Kansas winters.

            For instance, I forgot the January and February of 1978 when we had a blizzard while my husband was gone, and buried the car in the drive until the snow melted thirty days later.  For thirty days, the mercury in the thermometer lingered below freezing.  As a newcomer to this grand state, I did not know it could be cold for so long.

            One cannot forget the winter of 1986 when people had to sleep in the grade school gym because there were not enough rooms for stranded travelers.  Good Ellis folk gathered eggs, bacon, and bread to feed the crowd.  Not only did people suffer that winter, livestock also perished.

            Only a few years later, winter began after a warm October day.  Within a few hours, little Ellis children found themselves trick or treating in the snow.  That snow melted, but another one arrived in November, and we had snow on the ground through March.  Bare ground never looked so good.  I know a Canadian, North Dakotan, or Minnesotan would laugh at my comments, but for Kansans, that was a snowy winter.

            Put in perspective, the one we just experienced was not all that bad, but in comparison to the balmy winters we have had the last few years, this one lasted forever.  Every one I knew looked eagerly for signs of spring.  No one smiled upon hearing the ground hog saw his shadow, thus predicting six more weeks of winter.  

            Some years, spring does just that.  It springs upon us with little heralding: given a warm day or two and it seems the trees go from bare to fully dressed.  In no time, grass needs mowing and bushes need trimming.  Maybe because I looked so anxiously for some hint of spring, it took longer to arrive.  The hints came few and far between and seemed more subtle than some years.

            Our first hint, over which I did not rejoice, came in the person of my least favorite country beast, the skunk.  Once the days and nights warmed a bit, the little rascals came out in full force to search for leftover grubs and other goodies.  In no time, the ones not paying attention ended up dead in the middle of the road.  That stench perfumed the air for miles.

            Soon after the first little notification from the skunk populations, I went to town to wash the mud off my car.  Imagine my joy as I found fresh bug guts on the grill and on the bug screen.  My husband had been wiping them off his window for a couple of days he said.  Though I had yet to see flowers or leaves, I knew spring had to be around the corner.

            On the way home each day, I kept examining leaf buds.  Predictably they were swelling and preparing to burst forth, but they were certainly taking their time.  Finally, I noticed that hazy, green aura about the trees that appears just before the leaves unfurl.  I hope that little aura does not cause trees the same grief a migraine aura causes a headache sufferer.  Any way, I knew then it would be any day.

            Actually, I like the leaves to hold off just a bit.  Once they open up, it is difficult to see birds on their nests.  We have a blue heron rookery in the vicinity and watching those elegant birds fly to and from their nests is a favorite spring pastime.  I do not know much about these birds, but it appears that one stays on the nest and the other stands nearby.  Maybe encouraging the nester? 

            All of these are visual harbingers of spring.  The auditory notices that spring has arrived are just as interesting.  One day a few weeks ago, a thick fog settled in the area.  Apparently, overhead a huge flock of sandhill cranes migrated northward.  Several people mentioned they heard their strange cry coming out of the fog even though they did not see them.

 Shortly, afterward, two friends and I traveled to the Platte River to watch the cranes come in.  After I returned from my bird watching jaunt, my husband informed me that about 300 hundred cranes stopped over in the wheat field north of the house.  I couldn’t believe I drove to Nebraska to see something that had stopped in the neighborhood.

Cranes and geese are not the only noisy heralds of spring.  The local amphibian populations generate quite a bit of noise in their neighborhoods.  After a long, lonely winter, it is like a raucous single’s bar opens up.  A fellow teacher invites me to join her on her monthly amphibian surveys that takes place from March through July. 

Though it will be a while before all the area amphibian species are out in full force, the little chorus frogs sing with all their might. It sounds like a band of combs being played.  Imagine a distant room full of people racing their thumbnails down the spikes on a comb.  I am not sure how the female frogs know which fellow they want to hook up with, but I guess it works since we have plenty of new frogs year after year.

The other night, we were driving the back roads of Rooks County where we periodically stopped to listen for noisy amphibians.   On that particular night, not only did we hear the western chorus frogs singing lustily, we also heard another flock of migrating cranes singing their way north.  We looked skyward, but with the cloud cover, we could only hear the music.  We could not spy a single musician.

Looking for the signs of spring is like going on a crazy grandma’s Easter egg hunt.  You have to look everywhere if you do not want to miss a single treasure.  Like some of those egg hunts, you find those signs of spring in the strangest places—and sometimes like the cranes I drove to Nebraska to see, the treasure rests in my own neighborhood. 

No comments:

Post a Comment