Hanging on to winter

Appreciate the cold and snow that precedes spring warm-up

posted March 17, 2017 12:36 p.m. (CDT)
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by / Jerry Davis

  • con_Woodpecker_031517-2
    Photos by Jerry Davis | Enlarge
    - A red-breasted woodpecker looks up at a melting sap icicle on a maple tree branch on a recent day in southwestern Wisconsin. A late-February warm-up that seemed to mean an early spring has been tempered by cooler temperatures and snow during the first half of March.
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    A recent dusting of snow shows off this gobbler as he leaves his prints.
  • con_Icicles_031517
    Seepage icicles, hanging amid evergreen polypodium ferns, seem to express a mix of both winter and spring.

This is a magical time, a period when we can enjoy the better parts of two seasons, at least a portion of what we’re leaving behind and what is coming this spring.

Most outdoors folks are eager for spring, for frost to leave the ground, even on the north hills. They venture out hoping to find spring fishing, green plants and early blooms on willows, maples and marsh cabbage. 

Are the migratory American robins and Eastern bluebirds here for real? Are the little birds singing yet? And are the big birds vocalizing, too, in their finest spring fashion?

But for each springlike day during March, winter keeps coming back, hanging on like powdered sugar atop a maple syrup-drenched waffle.

These returns to a white wonderland cover up, albeit momentarily, the ugliness of early spring. Enjoy these days, even hours, of white dustings to track a coyote, to make animal sightings easier, or to differentiate between a hen and gobbler footprint.

The wing-swept snow markings of a crowing rooster pheasant or a drumming ruffed grouse will only show because there was such a snow dusting. Once the snow melts, you’ll have to sight these animals or hear their sounds to know they are present. 

One last return of winter gives us another chance to read a landscape after the track makers have wandered far and wide.

Show of green

Few things make green confirmations better than an all-white background. For instance, once watercress is located with winter’s helping hand, it’s stuck in your head for the next three months.

Likewise, a touch of deciduous tree greenery, before full spring, makes dead elms easily apparent. Contemplate returning to such locations after warmer days and heavier precipitation, with a collecting bag and a poking stick in hand.

Enough snow, or soft soil, can help identify deer hoof marks of bucks and see an antler drop or two. They may not have been there a month earlier, or even a day ago.

Cold mornings, after spring showers, allow icicles to form one more time, either from seepage from rocks or cracks in a maple tree’s bark. Snap a piece of ice to confirm the sap is still running by tasting the 2 to 3 percent sucrose within. 

Confirm, too, that a box elder sap icicle really is sweet and not bitter like the tree’s bark. Real spring’s warm days and warm nights shut down the flow of maple sap.

Taking time

These sprints of winter during spring seem to slow spring’s beginning. Rhubarb, daffodils, maple flowers, lawns greening, bud expansion and even turkey gobbling is turned down a notch and can start over again the next day and be just as refreshing as the first times they were seen or heard.

Don’t encourage spring to come too fast.

Remember how autumn’s progressions ended too fast, before our senses were fulfilled with the sights, sounds, smells, feels and tastes of fall?

We have no control over the weather (although there may still be a chance we can do something about climate change). But we do have control over our wishes for spring’s fast recovery from winter. 

Let it take its time. If winter restarts, embrace it, don’t deplore it.

Davis lives in rural Barneveld