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Rites of Spring

Posted by Jean McCord on May 24, 2011 at 3:15 PM

Early one morning last week, my dreams were filled with the darting, shimmering, bright forms of hummingbirds.

About 24 hours later, I saw this year’s first hummingbird visitor at my feeder. It was the last piece of the spring puzzle I’ve been assembling in my mind.

When I go out for the dogs’ runs, I love taking note of whatever the new day brings. This time of year, each day offers much for my eager eyes to notice. We live in the woods, and our property is surrounded by swamp and bordered on the west by the Heath Hen Meadow Brook.  Signs of spring come early, here.

On a walk at the end of February, I heard the unmistakable calls of the year’s first red wing blackbirds. Sure enough, there were a few hardy souls perched in trees at the brooks edge, despite the fact that winter ice still held the brook in its firm grip. My heart fluttered at the knowledge that the blackbirds had returned; spring would be around the bend (still a good long bend, though).

A month later, I was out with the dogs when I heard the first peepers of the season. These small frogs fill our woods with their tenor peeps throughout the warmer months.  What a welcome sound!

Other spring markers have appeared, both easy and not so easy to detect. It was a bad year for deer ticks - before the frost had left the ground, these sesame-seed sized arachnids had begun to emerge from the leaf litter and speckle the dogs’ coats and my pants legs (despite my rigorous practice of tucking my pants into my muck boots any time I head out on a walk). In late April, the dogs and I started being accompanied by squadrons of black flies, New England’s certain harbinger of Spring. As the black flies began to diminish in mid-May, they were replaced with clouds of mosquitoes.

The goldfinches at my thistle feeder have changed out of their dull olive winter garb and now sport bright yellow jackets. The juncos have departed for their northern nesting grounds; rather than seeing their plump black and gray bodies searching the ground under the feeders for cast off seed, I now see the chestnut-colored chipmunks and red squirrels, hungry after their winter slumber. They are so plentiful this year that the dogs are regularly blasting through their dog door to bark and chase the marauding rodents under cover.

A couple of weeks ago my husband went into the barn only to be dive bombed by the small bird homesteading therein. The grass in the meadow is up to my knees, and the year’s crop of poison ivy has appeared in all its shiny three-leafed glory. (I’ve heard that the colonists planted poison ivy around their homes because of the brilliant autumn foliage. I think I’ll stick with asters and mums.)

Perhaps one of my favorite aspects of spring is the lengthened day. I love taking the dogs out about an hour or so prior to sunset - now, around 6:30ish - when the early evening sunlight is rich as syrup. Now, we’ve had about 10 consecutive days of rain and the wet, misty woods and meadow are magical at that time of day. Each footfall in the tall grass causes an upward eruption of thousand of mosquitoes; they are a good incentive for us to keep moving. Lingering is not to be considered.

The dogs are also appreciating the arrival of spring as evidenced by their intensified attention to their surroundings. Mysterious sounds off the trail send them bounding through the underbrush. The chipmunks make good hunting and the skilled and resourceful Tess has already plucked a couple of the hapless creatures from the safety of their stone wall dwellings. I do feel badly for the little guys, but the dogs are so joyful in their hunt that I can’t help but cheer them on. And the chipmunks have the home advantage, after all.

Then, there’s nothing like a dash through the swamp and - if I’m lucky - a swim in the brook or one of the ponds. It’s definitely dirty dog season!

So we enjoy our time together in the woods and I continue to marvel at the season’s offerings. Soon enough, the deliciously fragrant milkweed will be in bloom, the air will be filled with the drone of cicadas and the deer flies will be upon us. I will take all the pleasure I can from this unseasonably cool spring; summer’s gifts are just around the corner.


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