News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Mike Lunsford

March 18, 2013

MIKE LUNSFORD: As of today, it’s unofficially spring

TERRE HAUTE — Despite the calendar telling us not to rush things, I think it is all right to go ahead and say spring is here. The Ides of March has passed, Easter is coming soon, and I have already been out in my yard with a rake, getting my boots muddy. It looks like spring to me.

I have been catching myself staring out windows on these wet, gray days; it is a habit I develop as winter wears out her welcome and my mind wanders away from my desk to visit golf courses and fishing holes and lawn mower service counters. I have moved a few short-sleeved shirts to the front of my closet, dug out a pair of sandals, even had a golf club re-gripped a few days ago, not because I can use them right away, but just so they’ll be handy when they’re needed.

This pre-spring is different from that of a year ago. It is wetter, for one thing. By this time last year, I noted that there was no water standing in any of the fields my wife and I journeyed past on our daily walks; in fact, violent little dust devils were sending ominous messages that perhaps a hot summer was on its way. We got the memo, sooner than later, and nearly ran out of sweat in the bargain.

This year, a few of the corn and bean fields near here are holding water like big brown bathtubs, the pools occasionally skimmed over with ice on the coldest nights, rippled during the day by the winds that now come more from the west and south than the north. It seems to me that most of spring’s new life comes from those shallow little puddles, and from the ditches that gurgle with water that never ran in them at all until late fall last year. It will be a good year, I think, for tadpoles and crawdads and turtles. We missed them last year, and we felt cheated by their absence.

It was in a spring like this one just a few years ago that a pair of whooping cranes made an extended stop near our place. They decided they liked the fishing and frog gigging in the field ponds that were fed by an overfilled Raccoon Creek, and so, for a few weeks anyway, we got to see them from a distance as they milled about like a couple of old geezers at a shopping mall.  

We have taken note that the Canada geese near our place seem to be scratching out nesting places, too, and that the trees seem to be alive with the scraggy starlings that led me to invest in a power washer a few years ago. Their contribution to the spring is less than pleasant, but if getting it here earlier means cleaning up after these freeloaders’ visits, it’s worth it.

It was kite-windy last week when I started to believe for real that spring was just around the corner, and despite a little rain, and a little snow, and a lot of wind, it is the memory of seeing a pair of young boys with their dad as they tossed a baseball around in their yard that has stayed with me. Within minutes of seeing them, I drove past an open produce stand, and the thought of tomatoes and sweet corn nearly made me want to skip spring altogether and go straight to summer. Nearly.

There is more to early spring than lettuce and radish seed going into the cold earth. I have seen the skin of young sassafras trees beginning to green, have already pulled a handful of early red maple buds out of my gutters where a cruel cold wind deposited them, as if warning them not to get in too big of a hurry. The moles have gotten into the act, too, tunneling near the wood line like greedy little miners looking for a big strike of grubs. The killdeer are already squawking, as well. They nag at Joanie and me as we walk by the ground they’ve staked out for nests later in the spring. They are excellent real estate developers, these big-mouthed little curmudgeons, but we’re glad to put up with their noise.

It is an exciting time for us to walk out on our deck at night with our cats’ evening meal or a few table scraps to hear the peepers down on the pond. They seem to be the true harbingers of spring, and as I’ve written before, it is a grand thing to know they have survived the winter snuggled in wet tree bark or under their blankets of cold leaves, only to emerge optimistic and eager to find mates and to start making house payments like the rest of us.

Spring may be springing, but I continue to feed the birds as if we had a foot of snow on the ground. This has been a good year for the jays and cardinals and woodpeckers. Just days ago, we saw three kinds of the latter — downy, red-headed and red-bellied — all dining together on sunflower seeds, cracked corn and millet with nary an argument among them. We’ve also watched a red squirrel come and go to the feeder all winter, his girth gradually building with his steady fix of ear corn. A young possum that I thoughtlessly named “Gary” also moved into our barn this winter, and he magically appears when he hears us filling the cat pans. These friends are addicted to our handouts, but until a spring menu of berries and bugs is posted, I have no intention of weaning them off the dole.   

As reluctant as she is to get out of town, winter is history, and as the days move on, spring is dropping off notes that it is on its way. Like everyone else, I am grumbling about having to readjust my clock to New York City time just as I was beginning to see the sun breaking in the east as I drove to work. My daughter, however, has told me she has already watched a painted turtle seeking the sun on the bank of a nearby pond, and just a few days ago, she snapped a picture of an albino robin sitting in a nest near her house.

I am watching a light snow fall outside my window as I bring this story to a close. It is another gray day, and the forecast isn’t calling for much more than overcast skies, and even more rainy days for a while. In my mind, though, the sky is blue, and the grass is already green.

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