Archive for April, 2014

The Mentor of Slow


A week ago I was still wading in snow. Nine days ago, we had been hit with a spring snowfall of 20 inches.

Today there are only a few snowballs worth of snow lurking in the shade. With the yard exposed,  I was cleaning up one of our wood sheds so we could stack a new load of split black cherry.

The tall tree had to be dropped as it was beginning to lean perilously towards our garage. So as disciples of the precautionary principle, we decided it had to come down while we had the ability to control its fall. It was thick of girth but the main trunk had a permanent wriggle to the sky so there was no straight log to salvage for lumber. Now the tree lies in a pile of split chunks awaiting their next home neatly stacked in our wood shed. There they will dry a year or two before we render the hardwood to BTUs in our kitchen woodburning stove.

Tidying up the woodshed is only one of the many jobs of sprucing up for spring .With the blanket of snow finally gone, this is the season where many of our embarrassments are revealed.

“Oh that’s where I left the rake last October.” And, I wondered where that extension chord had gone after I used it to deliver power to the Christmas lights in our snow cave.

I am not alone in my onerous task of seeking a spiffy spring. There is a male bluebird that is checking out the bluebird house I put up on the deer fence around our humble orchard. And the predictable phoebes are back swooping the yard’s perimeter, rising and lowering their tails as if in a slow motion wag at the arrival of another spring.

I called a time out and went to sit on the porch steps. As I sat there I noticed a wooly bear caterpillar slowly undulating its way towards the steps. This soon to be an Isabella moth,  seemed in a hurry. It was moving about a foot per minute.

Perhaps there is a distinct sensation of change in the insect’s innards.  This little bristly caterpillar will soon change its identity. Something will signal that this is enough undulating and it wall stop and pupate.

After it emerges from its pupa casing, it is a moth. But even then it’s not finished it has only a short time to find a mate to share genetic material and start the whole seasonal cycle over again.

I wondered where it had spent the winter. Perhaps under the leaves that had blown into the wood shed. Or maybe tucked under the loose bark of a piece of red oak. Silently it moves on with things. It could have cared less about the length or breadth of winter.

Deliberately, but oh so slowly, the caterpillar approached our sidewalk. Would it cross the walk and climb our four steps?  I chuckled. It was as if the little bristle brush of a critter was reminding me of a long forgotten joke.

 So this guy is lying on the couch watching TV. There is a knock at the door so he gets up, walks to the door and opens it. No one is there.

 He looks down and there on the landing is a small snail. The guy bends down and picks it up. He momentarily looks it over and then flicks it with his finger out into the yard.

 Several  months later, the guys is once again watching his favorite show from his couch. The door knocks. He grumbles as he gets up to open the door. No one there. He looks down and there is a little snail.

 He bends down to pick it up but is met with an angry outburst from the snail.  

  “What the hell was that for?”

 The joke gives new meaning to slow. This is an attribute that most humans fail to grasp. Instead we multi-task, give kudos to those who seem to get so much done. We thrive on stress.

We could all stand to slow down a bit and not take life so seriously.

Tomorrow I’m going to practice slow when I walk through the predawn darkness to a spot in the woods. I will sit myself down with a thick tree for a backrest.  My job will be to remain motionless and pretend to be the tree trunk. I will tuck a call in my mouth and yelp, cut, cluck and purr, like a love struck hen turkey. And if a strutting gobbler turkey is fooled and makes its way towards me. It will be my job to breathe deeply. Slow down the racing heart and make a quick killing shot to garner a slow, humble feast.

April Don’t Fool Me


raven 2

Shell-shocked, I had shoveled another snowstorm off our sidewalk. This was a tardy April fool’s joke; winter’s nasty way of grinding its frozen heel into our tender spring hopes.

Overhead, I heard the guttural greeting of a raven. I took it as an uplifting message of Poe’s often quoted line:”Nevermore.”

Twenty four hours later, the sun has claimed the sky and is bearing down with a vengeance. Water is dripping and settling everywhere. I stepped outside to see if this was a cruel mirage. There were no raven calls today. Instead I grew a smile when I heard a pair of clamoring sandhill cranes to the south, back by the slough.

Muskrat houses there still resemble small  white igloos locked in the pond’s winter ice. I wonder if the quarantined muskrats rejoice in the rhythm of “drip, drip, drip.” And I hope from inside their walls of mud and plant stems they hear the ancient clarion calls of the cranes.

The first cranes heard in the spring stop me with greater power than the first slurry notes of a bluebird. It’s not the crane’s melody but their bold raucousness.  Hearing a single crane carries more hope than a grade school valentine. The prehistoric sounding outburst is the Taps of winters demise.

I am heartened that the promise of spring flows in the hormones of these birds. Blending their bugling with their pair bonding, high-stepping dance, males and females forge their connection.  They never miss the annual April dance.

According to biologists, these east-central Minnesota cranes winter in northern and central Florida. I would dance too knowing I am escaping not only the made-up vision of Disneyworld but also the insipid humidity of a spring and summer in Florida.

Over the past fifteen or so years cranes have established themselves firmly in our neighborhood. In August we get to watch the gangly crane colts walk stiffly with their parents over the rye stubble looking for food.

I’m getting ahead of myself with this summer talk. General Winter is taking severe losses today and I need to be in the present and celebrate.

Was the raven’s prophecy of “nevermore,” an assurance that there will be no more snow shoveling?  While I have put away the big snow scoop today, I am not hedging any bets. One snow shovel remains basking nearby in the sunlit wood shed.