I gaze into the woods across my deck. Another rainy, cold, gray day. Water drops cling to every bud and twig, reflecting the monochrome sky. “Ready for spring!” That seems to be the heartbeat in all living things at this time of year.
Anticipating, keeping watch, whispering in the springtime if you will, is a glorious pastime. Woodfrog and spotted salamander eggs in woodland vernal pools. Red maple flowers bringing color to the gray forest canopy. The first wildflowers; arbutus, hepatica, spring beauty. Running in the lead of the procession to come. Tree buds swell, ready to burst forth with just a bit more warmth and sunlight. This week we stood in the forest at the edge of where the tree branches were coated with snow and ice from an earlier storm. The sun hit the treetops and we marveled as fingers of ice from twigs warmed and glittered as they fell to the ground. A moment in time. Eye-witness to the transition from winter to spring!
Last year at this time I was in Yellowstone where winter still had a hard hold on things. This year my friends there have experienced record cold and continual snowstorms. Winter in Yellowstone is glorious, but anticipation of spring there is something quite palpable at this time of year. A friend recently asked, when do the mountain bluebirds return to Yellowstone? Answers followed quickly; Soon. Early to mid March. Last year I recorded them in Mammoth Hot Springs on March 11th. People knew. People knew because people watch.
People anticipate and carefully keep their senses on alert for the signs that mark the end of dormancy and the beginning of new life. We watch carefully for the signs and talk about them excitedly. “Have you heard the chorus frogs, singing? Oh yes, last week in the wetlands near the parkway. Redwings too, on the pond. Redbuds will be out before you know it!”
A few years ago I reached out to nature center friends and asked, “What is your harbinger?”* The excited replies came in from across the country. Stories of place specific harbingers that spoke of special places and the signs that cried out, “Here we are again, spring is coming! Let the procession begin!”
Returning from the Northern Rockies to the Southern Appalachians at the end of March last year, I was almost afraid I would miss it. Miss what? The opening of the dogwoods. Those first wildflowers. That I might be too late as the procession had moved too far forward. But I did not miss it. I sat on my deck and with my morning coffee and took it all in, as the dogwoods slowly opened, the beech buds swelled and turned into bundles of new leaves, the chickadees sang their spring songs, and warblers, who had spent the winter in tropical places, hopped from branch to branch in these Smoky Mountain trees.
And so I gaze into these woods now in anticipation. Watching and listening, so as to not miss a thing. Creation takes place in front of us and we get to watch. It is a grand opportunity to be a part of that creation. To be filled with wonder. The Creator at work around and within us. Glory be!
– Ken Voorhis * “What is your harbinger?” article