"Go as far as you can see; when you get there you'll be able to see farther." ~ Thomas Carlyle
It begins in March. You would not dare dream about the end of winter in February but March usually presents a rare radiant day whose brilliance plumbs beneath insulating layers of patience and insidiously nudges sleeping desires. It invites you to imagine the treasures lying beneath their own thick, albescent cover that must be sharing that awakening, sensing the tingle of dividing cells, sipping hints of nourishment. Weather, the quintessential, ever available topic of casual social encounters dominates all conversation. Analyses of local climate and comparisons of current conditions to past and foreign Marches are argued among and between the old-timers. Memories are suspect; predictions scorned.
Eventually March gives way to April and prods once-steadfast sufferance with taunting images of spring from distances. Schoolbooks taught us that April is synonymous with the promising season, but the strength of winter is bolstered here by latitude and altitude. Patience is tested. Sometimes March, but this year April has brought teasing promises like the sudden appearance of velvety catkins swelling beneath shining sheaths. They decorate the glistening willow at the moist bottoms of sunny slopes.
Squirrels, who through the long winter endure because of their humble industriousness, filling secret middens with the nourishing cones of pine and spruce, in April, ascend the bare poplar whose buds are only just beginning to swell.
Still the cold, though weakened, perseveres and battles the inevitable assault from the ever-rising arc of the sun through changing days. Water that trickled to deepen a crevasse in the now compacting snow, cycles through its physical states. The hare, who must have read from the same schoolbooks, begins to shed its concealing white coat and must hide even more stealthily as brown fur replaces it. A barely visible songbird serenades from the top of a lofty pine tree in the sunshine and Dark-eyed Juncos are discovered gleaning tidbits under a tangle of shrubs at the edge of a ravine.
At first, it is only at night that you hear them. Canada Geese, Snow Geese, Sandhill and possibly Whooping Cranes, Tundra and less likely, Trumpeter Swans fly high overhead, their calls joining with the stars as a processional to spring. Then, if you’re lucky, on a rare warm day, you’ll watch as flock after flock of cranes join above the hill to circle as they ride a thermal to gain altitude: a spiral tower of ever fading specks and cacophonous calls, disappearing into the atmosphere above you. Throughout April and May, the energy-efficient V’s of migrating birds adorn the sky. The gargling gar-ooo’s of the cranes and the familiar honking of the geese are often the only way to identify the specks appearing and disappearing among the clouds. In the sunshine, black wingtips give away the snow goose, but the usually quieter and reserved swans, often flying lower over the hill, are unmistakable: black bill and feet starkly punctuating their graceful, huge-winged, long-necked, pure white bodies.
One shining day, I find dry purchase on a bed of moss and pine needles along a south-facing hill of mature pines. The liquid shine of a small pond below me promises the possibility of a visit from ducks or geese. Soon, a pair of Mallards is drawn to the submerged vegetation revealed through the clear water. Shy and skittish, they flush at the slightest sound or movement. The tentative approach of another species with whistling wings provokes the male into the air after them, the chase ending at the edge of the pond, where the Mallard skims the surface as he lands. The intruders continue their search for a resting place as the colourful drake silently floats back toward the sound of his relentlessly calling mate.
I stand among the pines, still and silent. Yet as if through a language I could not understand the female has given away my presence, the drake turns a graceful circle in front of me before suddenly taking to the air once again to alight beside his mate further down the pond. The next day dense clouds unload a thickness of heavy slush. Water on the cusp of freezing floats the snow that the Mallard couple must push aside as they trail across the surface, constantly seeking the pondweed seeds they need to survive. They will persevere and perhaps raise a brood on this little ravine pond as winter gives way to spring, and spring blossoms into summer in the hills.