One of the joys of living is learning from others their personal signs of Spring. Seems as if robin sightings are high among the signals of this refreshing break from the holds of winter, as evidenced at a St. Patrick’s Party last night, even if climate change has convinced these beautiful orange-breasted yard hoppers to stick around for most of the winter.
Everyone seems to have their own sighs of relief signaling the change of seasons. My late wife, Sharon, kept her eyes on the few wetlands of Chippewa County in search of great blue herons. When asked why herons, she said, “Because when they’re here it’s usually warm.”
Many of us also search the wetlands for redwing blackbirds, for they usually start perching on the area cattails in early March. They’re traditionally one of the first migrating arrivals, soon followed by the graceful flying Forster’s terns, which I spied for the first time this year on the wetland ice this morning. Courtships of wild turkey?
Birds are not the only hints given by nature. An appearance of pasque flowers is a signal of seasonal change for many. Pasque flowers are also called “mayflowers” by many, although they begin peaking out on the prairie hillsides much earlier. Even as early as March. Ramps peeking from the leafy carpets excites some, although the asparagus in the road ditches comes later … a sight viewed by some as a true sign of spring. How about morels? Dutchman’s britches? We’re all different, and have our own signals of change.
Ah, but come March! Sports tournaments aside, nature’s March “Madness” is quite apparent in the countryside right now. Open rivers are corridors of multiple geese species and ducks that crowd the ridge ice along the banks. For years my friend, Tom Cherveny, and I canoed down the Minnesota River from Wegdahl to Granite Falls on the first weekend after ice out, usually in March. This year he made the trip in mid-February with another friend, Scott Tedrick, although Tom and I hooked up the first weekend of March on a 70 degree Sunday afternoon for a paddle down the Chippewa River and its confluence with the Minnesota. Again, we shared the river with squawking geese and ducks, with surprised deer running along the banks just ahead of us, and numerous eagles soaring aloft in the rising air currents.
On these trips we usually recall a trip we made several years ago, the year Sharon and I hosted Jinyoung Hwang of South Korea, which was also the virgin paddle on the river for Scott, a young writer then new to the area. We pushed off from Wegdahl in the early afternoon, and the trees lining the river were full of song of birds. Their chirping and songs were nearly deafening. Because of the high water we actually paddled across a field of native prairie to avoid the traffic sounds of nearby State Highway 7, and encountered hundreds of geese and ducks. We came around a bend down river where three mature bald eagles perched in a tree suddenly swept from the branches just yards in front of our canoes to take flight. “Wow!” screamed Jinyoung.
Wow, indeed. I cannot recall ever being closer to an eagle, and witnessing the vast wing spans as they glided off the branches was something you can’t easily forget. Count eagle migrations as another sign of seasonal change.
Scott surmised that this was a normal paddle on the river, and that he had come across an incredible slice of unexpected natural beauty. True, although the bird life on that paddle had not been equaled in our previous spring paddles, nor since. This was truly an special and actual moment of March Madness.
Here in the age old Prairie Pothole biome of western Minnesota, we often point to the near poetic choreography of the murmurations of redwings and other black bird species, or the skeins of geese venturing from the lakes, wetlands and Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge to feed in the untilled stalk fields. Spring is indeed a renewal of life in the natural world around us, and comes in many forms. It seems much of the awakening comes in the month of March. All of which brings a smile onto the faces of old men and women, for we have survived another grayish winter and so appreciate a reawakening of the natural world around us whether by wing or blossom.
Truly, this is a March Madness that is so welcomed.