There are two defined species of the Canada goose and many subspecies. There’s a group that spend the winter around these parts and travel only as far south as open water after the local ponds and rivers freeze. They have been returning the last couple of weeks as the ice disappears. Reno, the farm dog is fascinated by the eruption of honks from these noisy creatures flying 50 feet over his head as they wander from pond to river to harvested cornfield.
Then there’s the true migratory group. After spending the last few months in the Chesapeake Bay and beyond, they leave their winter home and return to their breeding grounds near the Arctic Circle. The distant, plaintive honking from V shaped wisps of smoke 3,000 feet up plunges to my ears and sinks into my soul. The kilometer between us obscures their flapping wings so they float on the last chills of winter as the spring warmth chases them from just beyond the southern horizon.
Our other feathered neighbors that jilted us for warmer climes and insect feasts will soon be returning home. They’ll all be forgiven and I for one will be glad to have them back. The quiet evenings on the porch of the old farm house these last few months will soon be filled with the songs of life and rebirth.
The Red-wing blackbirds returned yesterday here on the farm. For me, they are the true harbinger of spring. I find the celebrated robin to be a false prophet and can appear anytime. I’ve seen them in January but the red-wing black birds will show up earlier or later in concert with the true approach of the season of spring. This year they are about 3 weeks later than normal. Their unmistakable conk-la-reeupon arrival always heartens me with the confidence that winter is loosening its gelid grip and the greens and flowers of spring are nigh. Not to be outdone, the Peepers are only a week away anxiously awaiting the first warm evening to begin wooing their lady-loves with choruses of desire.
My honey bees bring baskets of bright yellow and spring green pollen back to the hive while all humming in the key of C.
Then, as if some natural Flash Mob has been waiting to surprise the farm, these opening acts are quickly joined by sweet strains from the Rose Breasted Grosbeak. Pairs of Cardinals, White-breasted nuthatches, Chickadees and Song sparrows all harmonize with the unassuming melody of the incredibly beautiful wood duck from a cavity in an old maple near the marsh. The musical ensemble is augmented by a feast for the eyes. The plumage of the goldfinch magically changes from drab winter brown to electric yellow. Red admiral butterflies appear on stage with their choreographed twirling and tumbling search for nettles. My honey bees bring baskets of bright yellow and spring green pollen back to the hive while all humming in the key of C. Spring field crickets warble the soprano section while the Eastern spadefoot toad and the farm pond’s bullfrogs are all about that bass. Pileated Woodpeckers and the Northern Flickers keep beat on the trees and the crows boast their knowledge of everything with raspy jazz that would make old Satchmo smile and wipe his brow.
The skunk cabbages up in the wetland part of the farm woods that may well be centuries old, magically create their own heat so that they can melt the soil and snow around them and push up to become a beautiful leafy herb with alien looking flowers. Although unpleasant smelling to we humans, it’s pure ambrosia to not only a multitude of insects and some amphibians seeking the first warmth and food of the new season but it’s also extremely favored by bears just bestirring from hibernation.
For those that happen to have an acquaintance with nature, as do farmers, spring doesn’t just happen. It’s the juxtaposition of tens of thousands of organisms all converging at a given moment in time, coming from different places with different agendas and yet each affected in some way by the other, in beautiful chaos and harmony.