I love “North”. In fact, I titled the above recent painting “Boreal Twilight”. But I know that “boreal” really refers to much further North—like areas where they have perhaps 5 hours of daylight in the Winter and a “midnight sun” in Summer. I’ll settle for Wisconsin’s extremes, thank you!
Meanwhile, those who have not always lived in Wisconsin, might not be able to track with me these days when I say (exuberantly!) “It’s Spring!” That’s because they are apt to misconstrue the word “Spring” to mean flowers and rapidly rising temperatures. They don’t realize that Spring is not a matter of weather, but rather it has to do with lengthening daylight.
In our latitude, every January we pin our hearts to the rising and setting of the sun. By the vernal equinox (which was March 20th this year) our hearts are fairly leaping because it’s finally Spring. The sun knows, and so do we!
Those who think Spring means “warm” can’t seem to equate a murky, cold wet day in March with the same euphoria I experience on such occasions. These are the days when there’s an ever-so-slight warming—although one cannot feel it due to that damp Lake Michigan chill which, in our area, penetrates to our very bones. But we natives know about the slight warming, and so do the returning bird migrations. The migratory birds look for open water to access near their nesting sights. Thus the March murk will undoubtedly result in some degree of melting in rivers and at the edges of our inland lakes.
We are surrounded by water in our neighborhood, and the return of birds—including waterfowl—is signature to our Spring rejoicing. Canada Geese (the large ones which migrate; smaller varieties now stick around all winter, in melted industrial park ponds) may be the first we see in the sky. Their welcoming chant is absolutely intoxicating. Many “Vs” in the sky fly with an agenda—that of going further North, to nest in wild places such as we called “home” for years. Others pause, to party in local ponds along the way. The Geese feed in fields en route, so their lives do not necessarily depend on open water.
The Sandhill Cranes return early, with their muted, rolling “Halloo, Halloo, Halloo” high in the sky. This week we spotted a Crane in a near-by cornfield. Cranes can feed on corn gleaned from last autumn’s harvest, and thus they can also afford to return early.
Later the Great Blue Herons will return. We have many which fly over our park constantly, all Summer. They must have fish on which to feed, so their rookeries are always located near rivers and lakes. They are the noisy, squawky aviators—along with many varieties of ducks which return to open water. Ducks either feed on fish or aquatic plants, depending on what kind of Ducks they are, so we’ll need to wait awhile to see them overhead.
Finally (now my “up-North” memories are kicking in) the Swans return. We had Tundra Swans in our Northern bay every Spring—11 of them one memorable year. Smaller swans have traditionally nested in a couple of our Southern Wisconsin county’s lakes. But I recently heard that the DNR (Department of Natural Resources) put their formidable kabash on swans in one of our small lakes, because some of the songbirds were gone missing. I appreciate the DNR when they try to recover wildlife from man’s damage—but will they ever learn to leave well enough alone when it comes to natural balance? They always seem to have to get their sticky little paws into things. Is this a power issue, or what?
So Spring has to do with the return of the birds, as well as the sun—something that Wisconsin natives understand. And we know that premature warmth is seldom a good thing! Last year we had a tragic Spring. Temperatures warmed up too quickly. March had nights above freezing, which meant that our maple syrup crop was almost nil. The rising sap depends on days above 32° F, and nights well below. Warm nights just won’t do. So while some were rejoicing over a warm March, we natives knew that conditions did not bode well for maple syrup.
Likewise, April of 2012 was almost like Summer. We natives could not get overly excited, because we knew that the unseasonable warmth would spell trouble. Accordingly, fruit and nut bearing trees blossomed way too soon, and inevitably a frost came along to zap the blossoms. Result? A dirth of fruit and nuts.
I sorrowed over the fact that our park chestnut tree looked wimply all Summer (which was horrendously hot and dry) and did not yield any of those beautiful mahogany nuts which I love to find on the ground in Autumn. Park authorities tended to sick trees with bags of moisture and tree food, so there is hope for my favorite park tree. Time alone will tell.
Having said all of the above, I do have a concession to make. I really am looking forward to warmer sun. I have a penchant for dark skin, and last Summer with all the dry heat, I (or rather the sun) accomplished the best tan I’ve ever had in 79 years. Now I admit that an older person who has spent a lifetime indulging in sun on skin will look quite wood grainy, and yes I do!
Also an individual—if naturally a paled, Northern European skin type—may be subject to cancers from an overdose of sunbathing, and yes I am. I’ve had several basil cells plus one malignant melanoma. But to me, sunbathing is not a negotiable activity. I will indulge in sunshine until I check out. What the sun does for my soul far outweighs any damage it can do to my skin. :)
So there it is. Happy Spring—whatever that may mean to you!
P. S. My “stats” page shows that today I’m getting a lot of visitors on this blog, from Australia! Today there have been nearly 3 times more visits from Australia than from the USA! And you are getting ready for winter!
Normally, the visitors add up in this order: A lot from USA, Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand, India, and Nigeria (partly due to the English language bond no doubt)—and less, but a substantial amount from nearly every country in the world. It delights my heart to see Israel, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, South Africa, Estonia, Romania, Czech Republic, Ireland, Germany, France, Italy (Italian readers seem to love the knitting entries), various Caribbean Islands, and many other locales.
All my life I’ve loved reading about far away places, but I never dreamed I’d someday be communicating with people from other lands. This thrills me to pieces. I consider myself a “citizen of the world”!
Back to Down Under. If there is any place in the world that I’d love to visit before I check out, it would be Australia—plus New Zealand. I LOVE SHEEP, and raised my own spinner’s flock for nearly 20 years. I spin a lot of wool, and your Merino is the best! But also, your history fascinates me. And two of my favorite films are MAN FROM SNOWY RIVER AND RETURN TO SNOWY RIVER. The scenery and the horses cause me to view these classics again and again.
Greetings to my Down Under Mates, and Happy Winter to you! :) MLB
Margaret L. Been, ©2013
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