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Abigail B. Calkin

A Blog of Personal Thoughts

Spring Has Sprung
De Grass Is Riz

May 2022

A childís poem my friend, Liz, used to recite on the way to school on the occasional spring morning:

Spring has sprung
De grass is riz
I wonder where de boidies is
Some people say de boid in on de wing. But thatís absoid
Everyone knows de wing is on de boid.

Deep in the woods of Alaska, this year it’s hard to remember that spring is here. I hear the varied thrush with their teakettle calls and the ruby-crowned kinglet singing their melodic thirds as I walk to my studio. The foot of snow still on the ground tells me winter hangs on. Starred nights are in the 20s, days now in the low 40s. My husband and I are wagering the remnants of last snow pile will melt July 1st. Ten or twenty years ago the last previous snow pile melted on June 10th.

Standing in front of a pile of fresh winter with cousin Judy.

Standing in front of a pile of fresh winter with cousin Judy.

At this time of year, the important part for those of us in this snowy rain forest, the largest temperate rain forest in the world, the Tongass National Rain Forest is blue sky and sunshine. The smell of the forest here captures me. It reminds me of visiting my brother and going for long walks high in the Colorado mountains where he lived. Here is not the smell of dry pine forests but living this far north, I mingle that odor with the spruce forest. Here, it’s a cool, musty, earthy smell. Some say it smells like mint and citrus. My husband says it’s a sweet odor. I feel an odor of refreshing warmth and meditative calmness when I walk the occasional dryness of our forest.

Two years ago in my April blog, I wrote that the robins returned and built their nests. It is now the end of April and we still have snow on the ground. Again, every morning I now hear the teakettle call of the varied thrush and see hummingbirds at the feeders. Robins? I saw one earlier in the week. The Sandhill cranes flew by earlier in the week with their loud, warbling, clarion call. They stop here briefly on their way north to their summer breeding grounds. It’s one of the few birds I’ve heard and seen fly in the middle of the night, moonlight shining on their wings.

It’s not really spring yet though. Rhododendron leaves still droop since the night temperatures hover at 32 for a high.  Some alder trees still have their tops stuck in the snow. This morning I see the sprouts of the spring bulb flowers and one purple crocus. Rhubarb plants are two or three inches tall, quite short for the end of April. Some years they’ve been a foot or more and by the first week of May and I’m making a rhubarb pie.

I went for my walk today in sandals and wool socks, but my feet were still cold. There were wisps of wind but no gusts. Sunshine? Plenty of it these few days, but I still felt the chill in the air even as I wore a thick winter sweater.

Just now it was warm enough, 50 degrees, for this Alaskan to do a little sunbathing. I wore long pants, a long sleeve shirt, and a vest as I sat on the deck. I lasted for about ten minutes, not because I was chilly, but because I was bored. I’m no good for temperatures above 75 or for sunbathing for more than twenty minutes. Anything brief will distract me.

Now I’ve retreated to my study again and a hummingbird buzzes at the feeder. They are five feet away. One or two sit on the small railing, protrude the long tongue from the beak into the sugar water time and time again. These rufous hummingbird females usually have a black spot on the throat. For several years one who had a square throat spot came to the feeder outside the window. Years ago, I learned to stop working, turn my head very slowly and observe. How else could I see this long, very slender tongue and the throat spot of the bird. If I moved too fast, she vanished before I could identify her. Occasionally, I see two females or two males at the feeder at the same time. One will challenge the other and the smaller one flies away after a bit of an air battle. So far this spring, it’s a bit early for these exchanges.

Soon the robins will arrive and spruce up the nest left by last year’s pair. I’ll find castaways from the nest, a few twigs and some equisetum (horsetail) thrown down and new material installed. Perhaps I should consider it spring-cleaning or this year’s renovations. The robins always start with four nests and then a pair settles on one. One summer I thought I’d have two pairs, but one left. I guess they didn’t want to live so close.

No, this is a cold and late spring. In this part of Alaska we know we never plant till the first of June. We still have snow on our deck, in our open areas, and huge mounds of it on the drives to our sheds, house, and other buildings. We also know it will go away eventually. I don’t mind that the snow is still here, because maybe it means that the nearby glaciers received more. I don’t mind that the sun is not warm yet, for I know it will warm and I know we have short summers here.

Dirty spring snow

Spruce needles cover the dirty spring snow.

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