By Jim Poling Sr.
The spring forest is deceiving.
This is supposed to be a wonderful time of awakening. The sounds and movement of new life should be exploding all around me.
Yet it is sleepy and silent back here. No sounds and no movements, except for a wrinkled brown beech leaf fluttering in the breeze, refusing to let go of the branch that stopped feeding it months ago.
It’s a dull, cool day with heavy cloud blocking the sun’s awakening rays. Recent temperatures have been springlike, but something has pushed the pause button on actual spring.
There are a few signs of the new season trying to make an entrance. Brown patches of dead wet leaves widen within a shrinking blanket of snow and ice. They grow daily, gradually reducing all traces of winter’s whiteness.
The retreating snow reveals the wreckage of winter. Dead branches, not strong enough to withstand winter winds, litter the forest floor. They are nature’s decomposable litter, so unlike the coffee cups and beer cans littering the ditches of the nearby highway.
There are larger victims of winter – one or two fallen whole trees. It is sad to see their lives ended.
We sometimes underestimate the importance of our trees. They provide food to eat, wood for building and clean air to breathe.
The world already has lost one-third of its forests and the World Wildlife Federation estimates we are losing the equivalent of 27 football fields every minute.
The fallen branches and downed trees tell us about increasingly frequent and stronger winds. Over the past couple years, I’ve noticed more windy days and stronger winds.
My observations are not scientific but a couple of years back the journal Nature Climate Change published a study saying that wind speeds in much of North America have grown faster since 2010. It said that in less than a decade the global average wind speed has increased to 7.4 miles per hour from 7.0.
There is little wind back here today and I expected to be treated to all the joyous sounds and sights of full spring.
I realize that I am getting ahead of myself. It is still March, a month when minus 20 temperatures and snow depths of two to three feet were not uncommon. Extreme cold and deep snow are not so common in recent times, but it is still March.
But April, the genuine spring month in this part of the world, is at the door. This forest will be filled with its sounds and sights any day now.
Actually, if I look more closely there are signs of spring beginning to show. In one of those damp brown patches the tip of a plant has broken through the soil. It is reddish in colour and I guess it is skunk cabbage. Trillium shoots and others will join them soon.
I see a moist spot on a tree drilled by woodpeckers and know it immediately as the best sign of spring. I run a finger across the moist spot, then press it to my lips. It is sticky and sweet – maple sap which local syrup producers have been collecting and boiling down since early March.
Off to the left of the tree is a large animal track in the snow. A closer look tells me it is a moose track, which makes me smile because it tells me a moose has returned from its wintering area.
Every late fall and every spring I see a track, or a moose itself, heading off to its winter or summer range.
So yes, spring is deceiving. Today at least. Just because we can’t see or hear it doesn’t mean the annual miracle of rebirth and renewed life is not under way.
Very soon the blown down twigs on the forest floor will be back in the trees, part of nests the birds build for their soon-to-born young.
I climb the hilltop from which I can get a good view of the lake. The colour of the ice dispels any doubts about spring’s arrival. A week or so ago it was white, then grey and now a dark blue-black.
Within days the lake will be pure blue and sparkling and this forest surrounding it will be alive with the celebrations of spring.