Sweet Music of Spring

Ah, yes, the sounds of spring! The music! I can now hear it as my annual “yard river” broke through to begin flowing this week, and my, what a lovely sound. More of a narrow ripple than a growling rapids, though sweet nonetheless. All of us live in a watershed, thanks to gravity, and gravity is the conductor! Listening Stones Farm is no exception. 

Water droplets from the melt begin the journey in clumped drifts in the bluestem on the hilltop of the upper prairie, tunneling beneath the prairie grasses to join singular droplets off icicles hanging from branch tendrils in the grove and the melt from the feet of the cottonwood, dogwood and maples. Some course downhill from the crest of my neighbor’s crop field, all of it joining just above the wood shop to course toward the first of two small retention ponds we’ve had dug here.

Enough of the melt, which came rapidly thanks to the suddenly warm temperatures, offers a bit of what naturalist John Muir called “snow that melts into music.” Yes, the small stream courses through the yard as all this melt rushes through to the foot of the grove and an eventual escape into the county road ditch and with luck, perhaps even to the Gulf of Mexico. We just happen to be on this side of the Continental Divide that cuts across the “roof” of nearby Browns Valley, itself the “roof” of Big Stone Lake.

A lullaby created by the water moving through our prairie, yard and grove.

Hearing the soft lullaby here in the lawn made me wish for more. Not too distant is the Bonanza Education Center, the northern “half” of Big Stone Lake State Park and located a bit south of Browns Valley and the Divide. Bonanza is composed of a high bank cut through the prairie by the Glacial River Warren when the ice dam at the foot of the massive Lake Agassiz broke free near the end of the last glacial period. Much like the rest of the cut through the prairie, from here southeast to Mankato, the Minnesota River system, of which Big Stone Lake is the first of a chain of “river” lakes, are full of these ravines. Some include actual waterfalls.

In Bonanza there are at least three rivulets coursing through these wooded ravines fed by springs that keep water moving throughout most of the year, even in winter. Now, with the melt, waters are raging through these ravines, and the music becomes more “concerto” than sleepy lullaby. A full symphony may occur further downstream in the actual river … provided there is enough for bank-high flooding. This week the concerto was lively as the melt waters spread out onto the frozen ice sheet to create a beautiful mosaic of melt and left over ice and snow. Solitary and stubborn ice fishermen still dotted the lakescape even as the sun lowered into a recent sunset.

A lone ice fisherman braves the melt and elements on Big Stone Lake.

Our melt has come quickly, or as weather columnist Paul Douglas noted in his midweek column in the Star Tribune, “We might be skipping straight to April weather.” This time last week temperatures hovered near freezing, and my yard and driveway were covered with a thick layer of hard, matured ice. Hard and gray, speckled somewhat at the fringes. I spent quite some time trying to break through an ice layer on the sidewalk between the house and studio, finally breaking through the last six-inch deep by four-foot long stronghold Monday afternoon. Ice on the driveway finally began to yield to the Bobcat delivering hay bales for the horses a day later. Then came the warmth, and Muir’s music.

What a lovely sound.

Trees from the grove reflected in the melt water in the yard.

Here, though, it was rather ambient compared to that of Bonanza, and later on at the small creek just down the road that cuts along Meadowbrook to Big Stone Lake. All of it was lovely. All of it announced the end of winter. All of it opened arms to the warmth of spring and a change of seasons. All of it offers muse to the poets, and as Henry Williamson, the British author of Tarka the Otter, wrote years ago, “Music comes from an icicle as it melts, to live again as spring water.”

Indeed, this music is accompanied in the skies as Redwing Blackbirds, Snow and Blue Geese and their nearby cousins, Canada Geese, return to their northern breeding grounds. With the pleasing music of moving water, the sounds of the migrating birds offer us the woodwinds and brass to complete this orchestration of spring. Such blessings are so welcomed, so appreciated. 

What a lovely sound! 

The geese and ducks add to the orchestration of the spring melt.

Water in our small watershed is indeed alive and moving, dripping away from icicles and snow to course through our prairie island en route toward the Minnesota River and eventually the Gulf of Mexico. Daunting, isn’t it? In this freeing of the grip of winter, I doubt if I’m alone in feeling just as free as the melt itself. How heavenly such freedom feels. And, how lovely and satisfying is that orchestration of spring!

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About John G. White

Somewhat retired after a long award-winning career in newspapers (Wisconsin State Journal, Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, Denver Post and a country weekly, the Clara City Herald). Free lance photographer and writer with credits in more than 70 magazines. Editor with various Webb Publishing magazines in St. Paul, and a five year stint as editorial director at Miller Meester Advertising.

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