A confusing spring tests our spirits
BY MITCH MODE
Special to the Star Journal
Not much makes sense any more. ‘Least not with the seasons and with the weather. Not this time around. March came in like a lamb; left like a lion with an attitude, leaving the biggest snowfall of the season in its wake.
Then April took the stage. Those cute little Easter dresses lost some impact given that they had to be paired with knee-high pac boots and Kromers. Easter egg hunts, out-of-doors style, were lost to snowdrifts.
April showers? Not seein’ them so far. Unless you count the snowfalls last week and I don’t think that’s what was what they meant, whoever it was that came up with the “April showers bring May flowers” doggerel. Two below zero this Sunday when the sun peaked its way cautiously over the eastern horizon, as if reluctant to see what the night had wrought; surprised that it didn’t turn tail and drop back into darkness.
We saw robins in the sumac trees two nights prior, feeding on dried red fruit as sunset came down. Two days later and below zero temperatures and no robins to be seen. One has to wonder if they hunkered down and toughed it out or froze to death in the dark of night. I’ve seen woodcock the past week, worm feeders whose long bills probe soft mud for food, seen them in the seepage of small springs and along the open water on the river, looking for those patches of thawed dirt trying to eke out enough to survive. Saw two of them the morning after the below zero temps; survivors.
So what do you do when April locks down with cold and snow and there seems no hope at any turn? When the day dawns to chill and the wind rises from the north? When all cheer and optimism seems lost? You deal with it. That’s all. You deal with it.
You deal with it by accepting that over which you have no power and then, best that I can think of, you go outside and enjoy it. You accept the late, lingering winter because you can do nothing else. Accept it, deal with it, get on with life.
Wednesday I drove the truck as far as I could, parked it, stepped out into untracked snow. Cinched tight the bindings on the snowshoes and set off. I walked old roads that I have not set foot on since grouse season, plodding along on snowshoes under the high sun of an April day. It struck me, the absurdity of it, snowshoeing in deep, new snow under a springtime sky.
I walked to the river valley. Two weeks ago I’d skied on crust snow over hard ice and the river was but an open ski trail to me and I skied with sheer joy. Now the ice was gone and moving water glistened blue and cold. I walked upriver. Two chickadees kept pace, flitting as if weightless from low branch to ground and back. Shelf ice lay in disarray, fractured and broken, heavy slabs of ice tilted to river water.
There were geese on the river, geese and some early ducks. They watched me with suspicion; the geese held, the mergansers took flight. Then sandhill cranes, two of them, in shallow water. They were silver gray sporting a vivid red crown. They watched me. I moved closer, slow stepping.
They gave me some ground then took wing. The sun lit them as if there were chromed. Then gone save for the ancient call that echoed back across the river air.
Next day I skied. Skied on a warming afternoon under cloudless skies, skied where I’d skied for the first time of the season way back in December. I did not ski fast, did not ski pretty, just skied for the simple happiness of being able to ski. The trail conditions were very good, the tracks set deep and firm. It was as if I was in February and spring was coming on.
How odd it has become, this weather, this season that now has neither definition nor normalcy. How strange these days.
But here is what it comes down to: On those days, the snowshoe day and the ski day, on both those days I was struck speechless by the beauty of it all. On those days the sun shone on glistening white snow that covered the woods and open areas and the snow was sculpted by the wind and flowed like water would flow, smooth and easy and without form.
And the pure white snow lay upon the land and the bare trees stood tall in contrast to the snow and it was gorgeous. It was jaw dropping gorgeous. That is all. And that is everything.
On Sunday I watched a live video feed of a bicycle race in Europe. I thought to myself that it would be nice to ride now, ride in the glory and wonder of springtime, push unused leg muscles till they ached, to feel the spring air, to see the spring woods.
Or canoeing; it would be good to get out in the canoe. I have a new one, got it last fall, hardly got it wet back then. The canoe is as light as a dream, as solid as a promise, as full of wonder as a smile. It would be nice to dust that boat off and wet it down and paddle into the new season.
It would be nice if the weather would edge up and the veins of the maple trees would swell with sugar sap and run and flow and become syrup, rich and sweet.
All this would be nice. All would be appropriate. All would be as it should.
For now, a pause. For now a lingering winter that defies the norm and offers fresh snow under springtime skies. For now a time to consider what we have, to deal with it as we can, to wait for change.
For now, a time of testing our spirit.
An assortment of outdoor products is available at Mel’s Trading Post, downtown Rhinelander. Call 715-362-5800.