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There’s no way to deny the end of winter now, especially because today is the “official” first day of spring. Those who declare such things were apparently confident in picking this day as the end of winter and the beginning of balmier times, and even though wiser heads will note that there will likely be more cold temperatures and almost certainly more snow, the worst of it is over.
I had noticed a week or two ago that the turkey vultures were back in town, and they are not necessarily winter birds, though they will take advantage of whatever road kills they can find. On the 13th I had my own personal guarantee of spring – while enjoying the first Daylight Savings Time sunset of the year a woodcock suddenly landed in my yard and immediately began poking around in the copious mud in search of worms. This may well be the earliest I have ever seen a woodcock in spring. It had to be a combination of the warm rains and longer days that brought him here. I sincerely hope there will be many thousands more coming along behind him.
Now I have the fever – I’m looking and listening for the arrival or appearance of the critters that wisely disappear in winter. We’ve already seen porcupines, raccoons and opossums, but friends have told me about having thousands of blackbirds in their yards, or seeing geese along the coast. What I’m waiting for is the spring song of the saw whet owl, our smallest bird of prey and perhaps the most interesting one of all.
Saw whets mate in spring and start the ritual off by sitting in evergreen stands and uttering a soft, monotone whistle that sounds (for those who have heard such a thing) like a saw filer working on a two-man bucksaw. The note has that unique metallic edge to it that any old woodsman would recognize. It’s no longer a logger sharpening his blade, however, it’s the tiny owl who’s making all that noise.
What’s fun is that, with hip boots (because the snow is so deep and slushy) and a bright flashlight, one can go into the woods on a quiet night and sneak up close to a whistling owl – often close enough to pick him right off the branch!
I have done this several times in the past. The bird seems to just sit on his branch oblivious to the noise of my approach, the glaring light and the grip of my hand. I’ve picked up a few of them who have continued to whistle their mating tune even while in my grasp! These are friendly, trusting little birds and I always put them back after a little flashlight examination. I know that some folks have had them mounted into lamps or under-glass arrangements but the stuffed version lacks the vim and vigor of the live specimen – plus, of course, it’s illegal to possess the bird or any part thereof.
This week neighbors with a hankering for maple syrup have been busy carrying buckets of sap to be boiled down, but they tell me that the weather has not been conducive to the job. The best conditions are cold nights and warm days, but we have had cold and cold or warm and warm, and the trees are not impressed. One tapper I know claims he’s only run about half of his usual quota of sap while others are saying it’s too early . . . or too late!
I would love to be able to forget to mention surest sign of spring, but “mud time” is upon us and won’t be denied. I have to park 100 feet from the house now because the top layer of soft mud is quickly thawing the bottom layer of frozen mud. Soon it will be impossible to drive or park in the dooryard, but it’s only for a few short weeks! Driving on the roads is still a challenge – go too slow and you irritate the driver behind you, but if you go too fast large pieces of your vehicle will be flying into the woods. Being old now and none too eager to race, I just pull over and let the speeders go by. I love watching their vehicles hop and jump all over the road as they hit pothole after pothole. At least they get there first, and that’s all that matters.
Now that the clock’s been set ahead, I like to spend my March evenings on the porch with a cup of tea in hand. I like to be on hand as the sun slowly sets a few “inches” northwest of where it’s been setting all winter. It’s high and to the right of the front door now, which allows the light to come into the house and land directly onto my computer screen. At that moment I grab my tea and head for the rocker on the porch. After a long day of writing I feel that I’ve earned a short break, time enough to watch the last of the setting sun over the hardwood hill above me.
This time of year was made for gazing and idle considerations – too much snow and mud around to allow much else. I just sit and rock, drink my tea and make plans for next month, when it will be time to work (and play) outdoors again. Beyond the homestead there are trout to catch and turkeys to chase, all in the coming weeks. I’m already deciding where I want to catch my first fish of the year and wondering where that first gobbler will sound off. I have a feeling that the necessary chores may be postponed while I solve the riddle of trout and turkeys this season.
If you are one who commutes to and from school or work and haven’t the time for this kind of idle springtime speculation, allow yourself at least a few minutes a day to enjoy the subtle change of seasons. The clues are everywhere; you just have to take the time to look for them!
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