The miracles of spring
By Jim Poling Sr.
I am walking in the almost-spring woods, hoping not to slip and fall on one of the remaining icy patches left by the melting snow. If I do, I can’t phone for help because I have left my ever-present smartphone at the cottage.
I did not forget the phone. I left it behind deliberately.
These handheld marvels of digital technology give access to acres of information, but nothing as informative as the spring woods. Out here, cellphones are just an unwanted intrusion.
The spring woods are alive with information about life and living. The information is all genuine. There is no fake news here. This is the place where you see, hear and smell the miracles of life on this planet.
A couple of turkeys huddle nervously beneath a heavily-boughed spruce. They appear weak from hunger, which is possibly why they have decided to hide rather than run.
Turkeys are not good flyers, which explains why they suffer through the cruelty of our winters. How they survive the minus 20 and minus 30 temperatures in snows that bury most food sources is a miracle of the woods.
Smaller birds like chickadees flit from tree to tree, appearing frantic in their search for food morsels.
They are not as desperate as we might think. They survived the winter by preparing for it. They searched out roosting cavities protected from icy winds and blowing snow and stored food in hidden caches.
Their advance planning, plus thick winter feather cover and the ability to lower their body temperature to conserve energy, got them through conditions that an unprepared human would never survive.
The trees they flit through stand stark and still, appearing hypnotized in the early morning chill, but there are signs that they are beginning to warm and awaken.
The oaks, maples and beeches are truly miracles of life in the woods. The early morning sun caressing their crowns glistens on bud shells soon to burst, giving birth to a new year of foliage. How do they know when to bud, or when to drop their autumn leaves to save energy?
More advanced than any of the trees are the small willows that already bear buds – furry grey-white catkins that reminded some earlier people of small cats, or pussies. Thus the “pussy willow,” an important symbol of Easter in some traditions and the alarm clock that tells the other trees and plants it is time to wake up.
The greatest miracles of the spring woods are tiny and unseen unless you bend low and concentrate on looking for them.
A little ant runs across the face of a rotten log that has been thawed by the sun. I brush away some dead leaves beside it and see green shoots pushing through the moist dark earth. Some seeds, no bigger than flecks of black pepper, have landed here, and encouraged by water droplets from melting snow and the sun’s warmth, are creating another miracle of new life.
There is no antonym to accurately describe the opposite of miracle but I see what one word cannot picture when I walk from the woods and out onto Highway 35. A discarded cigarette pack rots in a wet ditch and nearby an empty beer can rocks in the morning breeze.
The beer can is a new addition to the garbage tossed from car windows along this stretch of highway. It wasn’t here an hour ago when I walked past.
“Who would be drinking beer at 9:30 in the morning?” I ask myself, before remembering that politicians are encouraging more alcohol consumption. Ontario has just allowed licensed establishments to start serving booze at 9 a.m.
I think of that tiny ant on the log back in the spring woods. Its brain is smaller than a grain of sand yet, unlike so many humans, understands its place in nature and the importance of trying to keep it natural.
I can’t think of an ant without thinking of E. O. Wilson, the American biologist and expert on insect life.
“If all mankind were to disappear,” Wilson has said, “the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos.”