As I continue my search I see numerous divots in the yard. Eventually I find the reason for the soil disturbance. The squirrels are cashing in on last fall’s winter preparation. How they are able to find the exact spot they buried those walnuts will forever remain a wonder to me. In the coming year I know I’ll find small Walnut, Hickory, Buckeye, and Honey locust seedlings marking the bounty they didn’t need or couldn’t find. I chuckle as I wonder if I could ever guide them to bury their unwanted seed where I want new trees to grow. This doesn’t seem like a signal of impending springtime.I continue my trek through the landscape and see signs that the deer enjoy their short stay on our suburban wooded lot. These intriguing herbivores must have awfully sharp teeth. The shrubs have been more cleanly trimmed than if I had used a sharp pruning tool. It becomes more and more frequent that we see deer in our small backyard woodland. We never tire watching them. Nonetheless I can’t help but cringe whenever I see them browsing on the native shrubs I’ve purchased and planted. To protect the plantings until they’re better established I’ll have to put small fences around the remaining Witch Hazel and Spicebush shrubs. The deer have obviously enjoyed munching these down to the nubbins. Maybe their presence is due to the recent flood of fisherman wading into the nearby Maumee River in hopes of catching Walleye. Surely this is a sign of spring.
|First growth of Bloodroot|
One morning I walk out to a sunny but cold 27 degrees Fahrenheit wondering if spring will ever come. Today ceretainly won’t be the day I see anything to keep me from wishing time would temporarily speed up just a little. On a whim I crouch low to the ground in the front entrance bed. Lots of eaten acorns and hickory nut shells lay on the ground. The squirrels have been busy here too. A few acorns have small holes where insects had made an entrance and perhaps camped out for the winter. Wait, what’s this? It’s cold. I can see my breath for Pete’s sake. But there it is. A small shoot of a Bloodroot has poked above the frozen ground. And there’s another. Is this right? It’s dang cold and the ground is frozen. And there’s a few more little spits of Bloodroot. My records indicate that last year was a freakishly unusual 80 degrees around this date and these gorgeous plants had already bloomed. This newly discovered growth will keep emerging, bloom with large snow white flowers for a short week or so, and then spread large scalloped leaves. (The banner to this blog is a summertime picture of the resulting greenery from years past.) But today, this is my first true sign of spring.
|Searching for Skunk Cabbage|
Adjacent to a paved park trail Kim points out a thicket of American hazelnut. Someone takes a close look and points out tiny red flowers on the bare stems. The shrub is in bloom. On a nearby branch, the male catkins are getting ready to open and make their pollen available to the wind. Kim says it would be fun having a table in front of the plants with Nutella and Hazelnut coffee. This would help people easily connect with this native shrub. Even without the tasty offerings, this early flowering event is yet another sign of spring.It quickly got colder and dusk began to set in. Several Bluebirds flew across the trail and perched in some taller shrubs. We walked a little way to a raised viewing platform. The scene over the restored prairie was striking. Several deer made their way into the surrounding thicket. In an ode to spring we took turns reading a small excerpt from Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac. He was poetically describing the spring courtship ritual of the American woodcock. The tiny “peent” sound of the male is to be followed by the “sky dance”. As Leopold says:
“Suddenly the peenting ceases and the bird flutters skyward in a series of wide spirals, emitting a musical twitter. Up and up he goes, the spirals steeper and smaller, the twittering louder and louder, until the performer is only a speck in the sky. Then, without warning, he tumbles like a crippled plane, giving voice in a soft liquid warble that a March bluebird might envy. At a few feet from the ground he levels off and returns to his peenting ground, usually to the exact spot where the performance began, and there resumes his peenting.”It was getting colder and darker. Several people had to leave. A few of us remained, carefully listening to every little sound. Not a peent was heard. We started heading back to the parking lot and stopped at the end of the prairie for one last listen. “Peent”, “Peent”. It was the woodcocks! It was almost totally dark then and very windy. A bird glided in to land close by. It was a woodcock. Another glided in from the darkness. More “peents” and more birds quietly landed. Squinting into the darkness we never saw the spiraling “sky dance” that night. It probably was just too cold and windy for them to rocket up, rolling into the night sky to perform the ritual. Perhaps we would return in a few days when it becomes a little warmer and still. But it is spring! I didn’t have to wish my time away. It is spring!