Early Signs of Spring (Home school nature notebook)

Date: February 19, 1999 (Friday)

After a cold spell… big wind storms (100+ mph winds)… rain, rain, rain…

Perfect day! Blue sky, sunshine, puffy lacy white clouds, 14 degrees Celcius! Even the usually gray, foreboding, barren, wintry trunks of the alder shine mottled silver and white in the sunshine. Tulip and daffodil leaves push up through the soil, promising spring and new life. New, fresh, deep red bud tips on fresh new salmonberry shoots stand out in bright contrast to the duller rust-red buds on young alder.

Suddenly I realize that the air is alive with a dozen different bird calls, all joyously announcing their pleasure with the sunshiny day. I am startled to hear the high-pitched peeps of new-born birds emanating from a nest tucked into the overhang of our house. Could it be? This early? Parent birds darting back and forth from the nest verify my amazed observation!

Tiny dark pink buds on huckleberry bushes make my mouth water in anticipation of a sweet, juicy summer harvest. I feel exhilarated — although the garbage strewn everywhere, the careless detritus of human passage, threatens to dampen my spirits. And a few dusky gray-purple shriveled salal berries still clinging to bushes, salal leaves no longer summer-dark and shiny, now wearing browned, curled edges, also remind me that Ol’ Man Winter is still hovering close by.

I am reminded of the tale of the sun and the north wind competing to see who is strongest, who can first remove the traveler’s coat. I optimistically cheer for the sun on this beautiful day, even as I notice that the recent winter winds have caused cones, bits of mossy bark, mosses, dried and wrinkly alder leaves, snips of grasses to be caught up in the bare, claw-like branches of huckleberry bushes next to the slough. Rose hips have mostly shriveled dull red, sprinkled with black frost spots, though a few defiantly remain firm and bright orange-red.

I take a deep breath and notice that the air still has a wintry smell, not yet the scent of new growth breaking through the earth. Under the trees hundreds of cones lay littered from the recent winds. Fresh yellow-green branches rise from old grayish twisted branches of mountain ash. I walk carefully, picking my way from high spot to high spot. Water, water everywhere… only the paved roads are drying off, despite the sunshine. My feet squish-squash through mossy grass. Puddle-sized ponds gather in low spots among the trees. Watery mud stretches from the slough’s edge to the high-tide line, as if the salt, winter-cold water can’t bear to let go during the change of tide. Along the road’s edge, run-off from winter rains has carved paths in the soft shoulder, and water sits there still, sluggish, barely tricking downhill despite the urge of gravity. Pussy-willow branches are still stark and bare of leaves, yet the small fresh buds promise that spring is on the way. Soft, rough, deformed brown-black lumps, studded with tiny holes, crumble open easily to reveal their burden of seeds. Sparse grass under pine trees is blanketed with a rich rust-red carpet of spent needles. Rhododendrons boast small, plump, upright buds, but the leaves are still yellowed and drooping.

Suddenly, a bright-plumed robin redbreast, back from his winter wanderings, swoops down and alights on a fence posts just a few steps from me, lifting my spirits with his cocky attitude! I start to head home, walking across lawns that are yellow-white except for clumps of yellow-green moss, and patches of winter-hardy, bright green wild grasses which defy the landscaper. Bare, mud-brown spots in low-lying damp areas and along ridges invite a dark brown fungus to fill in their worn-bare spots.

I shiver, and realize the sun has gradually been losing out to heavy gray clouds with ragged edges which have crept in surreptiously. The air temperature drops markedly, the wind picks up. But I rejoice that the sun has won again, even if only for a while, as I zip up my jacket which I had opened while the sun shone its gentle rays. The cold, wintry wind quickens, and I pull my jacket tighter, and lift my coller around my ears. The songbirds have ceased their joyous chorus, and now the ravens shout raucously to each other, their rough, noisy calls well-suited to the cold windy gusts, and the big, cold drops of rain which — I hear them before I feel them — start to plop intermittently, then faster and faster. My fingers are cold. I pull them inside my jacket sleeves and run for the house.