Blizzards, Mating Dances, and Hints of Spring

Winter, like an aging boxer with vestiges of a once mighty punch, is poised to deliver a late season Nor’easter. But, if you look for them, the signs of warmer days are here.

cd61977dbf99d4efc635fc6fd4cf8796Green shoots of genetically conditioned hardy plants push their way through the defrosting soil. Male ducks, ordinarily solitary creatures even when in groups, protect and defend a female, engaging in head bobbing dances of potency and the promise of viable offspring.

The successful ones will mate, and a new generation will soon add to the population, replacing those who didn’t survive the winter.

Ducks are not the only ones engaged in the pairing ritual; cardinals, geese, sparrows, robins, jays, hawks, and scores of others join the fray. Some dance, some challenge, some battle, some strut, some brighten their colors, some sing.

All share the same goal, continuity of the species.

Old snowfall, hidden in the shadows of trees, still evading the sun climbing in the northern sky, will join the latest snow and cover the ground. But the die is cast, the sun’s rays more intense, the warm change is in the air. No matter the intensity of the storm, this soon will fade. The melting snow will feed the groundwater, nourishing the new growth, and the colors of spring will erase the grey of winter.

Two nesting squirrels, quick in their gathering of leaves and branches, hurry up and down a tree. Focused and intent on rebuilding the nest that survived the long, cold, howling winds of the winter better than the tree that held it. The tree, broken and shattered by the same winds that could not dislodge the nest, lies on the ground. Tilted upside down, but still sturdy in the branches, the nest sits as if mocking the weakness of the oak, daring it to stand again.

The squirrels’ frenzied scurrying to fulfill the evolutionary imperative of procreation more evidence of the fading of winter and the arrival of spring.

Near where I live, remnants of the Blackstone Canal parallel the river bearing the same name. It was once the main channel of commerce in centuries past. Each day, as the first hints of spring appeared, I’ve watched it shed the ice coating in anticipation of emerging hatches of bugs, feeding fish, and shy, quick to dive, turtles.

These last storms are but a temporary delay to the reemergence of hundreds of species.

Soon, the waters will warm and the turtles; Woodland box, Eastern Painted, and Common Snapping species will emerge from the mud to lay their eggs along the bank.  All summer, the warm sun will comfort the eggs until they hatch. At least the ones not found by the raccoons or fox.

The turtles will hatch, more will fall to the predators, and the survivors will make their way into the river. The ducks, geese, and other birds will hatch their eggs, adding to the parade of new life, and the cycle is complete.

The last days of winter are the best time to see the promise of spring. Like Dorothy’s first view of Munchkinland on opening the door from her gray, tornado rattled home, the contrast of colors will shock and amaze us. (This might need some explanation to many of the post-broadcast TV generation but I love that movie.)

The cycle of life that is our driving force on this planet shows its impressive power with just the simplest of gestures. One green shoot inching its way skyward bends not in fear of winter but rises despite it.

A Whiff of Memories

As we grow through the various stages of our lives, we develop a memory of aromas.  Over time, our experiences accumulate and a familiar fragrance or aroma causes a reaction in our minds, invoking a memory or making us aware of something with which we are acquainted.

Those of us from New England are intimately familiar with the smell of snow, a certain aromatic essence in the air, predicting its imminent arrival.  It may be true in other areas of the world but certainly familiar to us here.

Soon, we all hope, we will be able to enjoy the smell of spring.  The emerging buds of the trees, early blooming flowers, grass returning to a vibrant growing green, the aroma of a warm sun.

Human beings are visual creatures; we rely on our vision more than any other sense.  Those among us that are blind need to rely more on the other senses.  Yet, we all have the ability to use them; we often do it without realizing it.

For me, the smell of approaching snow brings mixed feelings.  As a native New Englander, I think we suffer if we are too long separated from four seasons, no matter how much we may complain.

I am guilty of fleeing winter more frequently as I have grown older, my tolerance for cold weather diminishing with age.  Nevertheless, there is something integrated deep within my psyche that needs a little of each season and the associated smells differentiating them.

The smells of a recent rain, freshly mowed grass, flowers in bloom, the ocean mist, all of these enhancing our experiences here in this world.

Just the hint of any of them, brings forth memories of other days, other storms, other walks in the rain, other moments of rolling in fallen leaves, riding waves, sliding sleds down snow covered hills.

Like most of you, I am ready for the smells of winter to fade away for now. Let the new, yet familiar, aromas of spring take over.  I look forward to that first feeling of a warm sun on my face, as I smell the emerging new growth pushing out of the ground.

I know that the pattern will remain; the one I have come to know so well.  The rains of spring, followed by the grass and beaches of summer, the changing leaves of fall, and the return of those first hints of snow repeating itself once again.

While we may be tired of the hazy shade of winter, to borrow a line from Paul Simon, ready to move on to spring, keep in mind those aromas of the seasons. I hope we all have any more winters to complain about, many more aromas of approaching storms.  Inhale them, savor them, and hold their memories because the winter of our human life marks a real end without the chance of a following spring.