“The afternoon is bright, with spring in the air, a mild March afternoon, with the breath of April stirring… .”—Antonio Machado
It’s 63 degrees. I leave my heavy winter coat, gloves, and scarf in the closet and pull out my windbreaker for the first time in months.
Winter hasn’t quite let go. No mistake about it. But the five senses say a shift in seasons is underway.
In between the prairie dropseed planted along the edges of my backyard patio, the crocus and snowdrops have emerged from their dark sojourn underground.
When I dug them in last October, the pandemic seemed to have gone on forever. Vaccination was only a dream. Spring seemed a long way off. Today, I count the flowers—10, 20, 40… . Look how far we’ve come.
Cardinal song wakes us in the morning. The windows are cracked open to take advantage of the smell of clean, laundered air.
On the prairie trails I see a honey bee, flying low to the ground, looking for something blooming. Not much. Warm temperatures and hot sun have brought the earliest prairie fliers out today. My ears catch the buzz—a sound I haven’t heard in months. Soon, I won’t even register it when the pollinators are out in numbers. Today, that “buzz” is still new enough to catch my attention.
In the afternoon, hundreds of sandhill cranes pass overhead, their cries audible even inside the house. We stand on the back porch, eyes shielded against the bright sun, watching.
Waves upon waves upon waves. Heading north to the top of the world. Flying determinedly toward something they only dimly remember.
On the prairie, ice still slicks the trails where shadows lie. We pull on knee-high rubber boots and slosh through slush.
In spots the paths are springy like a mattress. The trail gives unexpectedly and I tumble down, sprawling, laughing. It’s like sinking into a pillow– although a cold, muddy one. In spring, there are so many new sounds and scents it’s easy to forget to watch your step.
Burdock burs, grasping at their last chance to hitchhike a ride, catch our clothes. We spend a few minutes pulling them off. Ouch! I’d forgotten how sharp they are. Years ago, I remember our collie getting into a big patch of burdock. Impossible to remove. I spent a good long while with the scissors, cutting the burs out.
All around me are the last seeds of 2020; those that remain uneaten by voles, undisturbed by winter storms. Seed dispersal is so varied on the prairie! Wind and animals; people and birds—we all have a role to play in the continuing life of plants. Even now, the vanishing snow is filtering the fallen seeds into the soil, ready for a new life.
Inhale. The smell of damp earth. Not the scent of fall’s decay, but something similar.
The fragrance teases my nose. Tickles my memory. It’s the spring’s “prairie perfume.”
The sky begins to cloud with tiny popcorn cumulus. The warmth of the day takes on a bit of a chill. These are the last days of tallgrass.
Any day now, fire will come to these prairies. Smoke-plumes will rise in the distance. The old season will be burned away.
Until then, the brittle grasses and battered wildflowers wait, tinder for the flames.
Today, spring seems like something exotic, something new.
It’s not a shout yet. It’s barely a whisper.
Can you hear it?
The quote that opens this post is by Antonio Machado (Antonio Cipriano José María y Francisco de Santa Ana Machado y Ruiz) (1875-1939) from Selected Poems, #3. Machado is regarded as one of Spain’s greatest poets. Reflective and spiritual, his poems explore love, grief, history and the landscape of Spain. A longer excerpt (as translated by Alan Trueblood), reads: “The afternoon is bright, /with spring in the air, /a mild March afternoon,/with the breath of April stirring,/ I am alone in the quiet patio/ looking for some old untried illusion -/some shadow on the whiteness of the wall/some memory asleep/on the stone rim of the fountain,/perhaps in the air/the light swish of some trailing gown.”
Join Cindy for an online class! See http://www.cindycrosby.com for a full list of upcoming talks and programs.
Virtual Wildflower Walks Online: Section A: Friday, April 9, 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. CST Woodland Wildflowers, Section B: Thursday, May 6, 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. CST Woodland and Prairie Wildflowers. Wander through the ever-changing array of blooms in our woodlands and prairies in this virtual walk. Learn how to identify spring wildflowers, and hear about their folklore. In April, the woodlands begin to blossom with ephemerals, and weeks later, the prairie joins in the fun! Each session will cover what’s blooming in our local woodlands and prairies as the spring unfolds. Enjoy this fleeting spring pleasure, with new flowers revealing themselves each week. Register here.
Plant A Backyard Prairie: Online, Wednesday, June 9 and Friday, June 11, 11am-12:30pm. CST –Bring the prairie to your doorstep! Turn a corner of your home landscape into a pocket-size prairie. If you think prairie plants are too wild for a home garden, think again! You can create a beautiful planted area that welcomes pollinators and wildlife without raising your neighbors’ eyebrows. In this online class, you will learn: how to select the right spot for your home prairie; which plants to select and their many benefits, for wildlife, and for you; creative ways to group plants for a pleasing look, and how to care for your prairie. Plus, you’ll get loads of inspiration from beautiful photos and stories that will bring your backyard prairie to life before you even put a single plant in the ground. Register here.