The weather hasn’t lived up to people’s expectations of the spring they have long waited for. Nature is taking her sweet time, teaching us that we will be rewarded for our patience. It’s mid-April and the frost is finally leaving the ground, so there is very little green anywhere. It got a little warmer this week but only by a few degrees, and it was rare to see the sun. Gray, cloudy skies brought a mix of rain, light snow, sleet and even some hail. The dampness has kept me from doing any garden cleaning, and it’s been too wet to plant those early potatoes.
The folks who tap maple trees are having a pretty fair season. Sap has flowed freely for several weeks. I heard it through the grapevine that one of Organic Valley’s long-time Amish farmers has cooked down 1,600 gallons of syrup. When you consider that it takes 30 to 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup, you see how amazing that is.
Daffodils are peeking up through wet soil, but it just doesn’t seem to get warm enough to get things growing. It’s going to have to get quite a bit warmer before we have lilacs for Mother’s Day.
Spring peepers and wood frogs are singing in the marshes but far from a feverish pitch. This isn’t exactly the kind of weather that makes the amphibians go crazy. Like us, they are taking it a day at a time until the warm sunshine heats up their spring fever, and they will all rejoice in songs.
I watched a pair of beautiful, adult sandhill cranes as they walked through the snowy, wet marsh this morning. It was early, and I thought I might catch them doing their lovely courtship dance, but they only seemed interested in catching a fat vole for breakfast. From up the valley came the loud bugling calls of another pair of cranes, and the pair I was watching stopped in their tracks, thrust their long necks straight up and returned the calls. There is something extra special about actually seeing cranes as they call to the heavens. Notice the cranes’ marbled plumage as they replace their gray winter feathers with the cinnamon brown feathers of summer.
Rain and melting snow and ice has caused the Kickapoo River to swell over its banks and flood many of the low-lying pastures and fields. I’m thinking it’s just as well that the cranes haven’t started nesting yet. I have noticed several Canada geese standing alone without their mates. These are probably the ganders who are patiently waiting while the goose sits on her clutch of eggs, hidden somewhere in the marsh grass.
A flock of about a dozen pretty cedar waxwings landed in the lilac bushes. How subtly beautiful they are with olive bodies and bright yellow tail tips and wingtips. Tiny spots of red at the ends of their secondary feathers are a lovely accent. Their gentle, high-pitched calls—zeeee, zeeee— always give them away as they fly by. Many waxwings spent the winter here this year, and I’m looking forward to hearing and seeing them all summer.
Several ducks showed up on the marsh pond along the river road today: a pair of mallards, three pairs of hooded mergansers, two pairs of wood ducks and two other ducks that I hadn’t seen until this morning. A colorful pair of bufflehead together with four striking scaup swam about in the middle of the small pond. These rather small diving ducks visit the Kickapoo Valley in the spring and are here for only a few days before flying to their breeding waters in Canada. That’s a long ways from where they had spent the winter in South America.
The marsh pond was busy today and two pairs of Canada geese preened their feathers in the shallows. The real treat was four magnificent white tundra swans at the far end of the pond. I love watching swans move gracefully on the water in what seems like slow-motion. We’re very lucky to see a few of these beautiful birds each spring as they pass through. The vast majority of migrating swans pass over in large flocks, but there always seem to be a few who stop to rest before moving on.
Yes, spring has been dragging its heels a little this year, but when the weather finally breaks, it’s going to catch up fast. I’ve had the same fire in the woodstove all winter that I started in late September. I’m looking forward to opening the windows and leaving them opened until next October. It will happen. I haven’t lost faith.
I always greet the fish in Organic Valley’s small aquarium when I come in the door. They seem to recognize me, and they remind me how good it is to have close friends you can swim around with.