If one looks, and not necessarily all that deeply, he or she may find calm in the “madness” of March, which is perhaps our most awkward month. March arrives with an uneven reputation and temperament ranging from the tournament heavy “March Madness” to an earthy “Muddy March” through the Shakespearian promise of the “Ides of March” and so on. It carries both a scrounge of winter past and a prelude of a spring to come, an in between month.
We Minnesotans are notoriously ingrained with the reputation that all of our high school championship tournaments are paired with halting blizzards, with fans known to argue that their preferred sport, be it wrestling, dance line, hockey or basketball, will bring the deepest and wildest of the seasonal blizzards.
Here in the country we anticipate a month of extreme muddiness as the snow yields ever so slowly to rising temperatures. We have hope the snow melt won’t happen so rapidly that the frozen earth isn’t properly prepared even if we can’t wait for it to be gone. If the surface snow melts before the ground below, torrents of raging waters and ice floes will likely clog the prairie rivers as happened in the spring of 1997.
Prairie towns along the Minnesota and its tributaries were threatened throughout the watershed and some were introduced to FEMA and other federal programs. Later in the spring canoers would marvel at seeing flood refuge clinging high in the treetops along the river, and at one bend of the Minnesota River below Renville County’s Skalbakken County Park, floodwaters stacked logs high up into the tops of the riverine trees like a log cabin wall.
Lest we not forget the winds. Those “Ides” of the prairie, where there isn’t much to block what comes across the Dakotas, lift dirt particles airborne from the barren cropping fields. There is little resistance once the snow cover is gone for there are too few cover crops being planted.
Enough of the perils, for there is another side to March. A much calmer side. That reawakening. Sometimes this calm is as small as observing the feathers of Gold Finches gradually gather more color. Or noticing that the Juncos are no longer at the feeders, or that the small and colorful Snow Buntings no longer linger along the roadways. While one would hardly call the Sandhill Crane migration, among others, as “calming,” yet those noisy and frenzied moments along the North Platte in Central Nebraska brings a sense of calming, for yes, spring is finally on the way. And I find that calming.
Migrations signal the reawakening of our prairie, this release from the grip of winter, as much so as the first blooms of prairie flowers. Indeed, there are some hardy flowers that may break through even in March.
Surely I’m not the only one who will forge a path to a known hillside where pasque flowers peak from scraggly brown and grayish dormant grasses. If we’re fortunate we’ll see our first pasque flowers bloom before the full release of winter comes in April. A few years ago I ventured to “my hill” – seems we all have a prized and chosen hill – to find a spring bloom awakening across the hillside. Not long after the initial bloom appeared we were hit with another blizzard. Afterwards I returned to find the snow had blanketed the blossoms, yet the blueish purple pushed through, delicately and defiantly strong.
Earlier this week I caught my first sighting of those seemingly haphazard skeins of snow and blue geese just north of town. A year ago in March we were blessed with a large flock with hundreds of birds that adopted the wetland just over the rise from Listening Stones Farm. This was the second time over a six year period this has happened. Other years I’ve had to drive across the county, or even up to Traverse County, to capture photographs of the migration. I don’t know where they are resting now, although I know they’re here. Somewhere.
I long to head to the North Platte, and might still depending on an upcoming procedure to solve a health issue. I was close to giving up on the possibility, although a drive this week to Sioux Falls to meet with a specialist churned up the desire to simply keep going. It felt as if I were already half way there. If I have a “March Madness” it’s the Sandhill Crane migration, and reports of the migrations have come from Illinois, Colorado and Nebraska according to the International Crane Foundation. The largest migration route is through central Nebraska where a quarter million Sandhills are said to funnel through.
Twice I’ve rented an overnight blind along the Platte to be closer to the birds as they come to the river for overnight protection from possible predation. As the sun lowers to the horizon large flocks begin descending down to the shallow waters and sand bars. As impressive and beautiful as the flights and landings are, the prehistoric din of the collective callings mentally transports you through the ages to prehistoric times.
Even if I can’t slip away for a few days, March will bring many rewards for this grounded traveler. As I write the release of winter is occurring. Calmly and steadily, on earth and above in the treetops and clouds – a calm within the “madness” of this awkward month juggling between seasons.