The sun is coming out today for an hour or two … Where should we go for a walk? It’s one of those unexpected early spring days that jumps ahead for a flicker, like that afternoon in mud time in the Robert Frost poem, when he’s outside chopping wood and keeping warm with the movement of it. ‘Only where love and need are one, and the work is play …’
In another few weeks we’ll have vernal pools. We’ll have salamanders. The night will come when we can stand in the dooryard at dusk and hear the first high clear calls — when the peepers come back, and the air holds a touch of moisture, and we start to believe in spring.
But right now? It’s a scraggily time when the snow is melting and the buds haven’t started to swell. What should we look for out there?
It’s a good time for the underlying shapes, the bones of things. I was up on the Chestnut Trail today, sliding along on the soft end of the snow. It’s a mild steady uphill, and the path has the steep banks that sometimes mark old wood roads. I found a birch tree with squarish holes and scruffed-up bark — do pileated woodpeckers ever make a meal from the creatures living in a silver birch?
And here was the stump of a tree that once grew about as thick through the trunk as my arm-span. It’s weathered now and cinnamon brown. The inner ridges made me think of baleen and the long lines of a whale’s underbelly, and I remembered a broad log on another trail, a tree fallen long ago and worn smooth, with a knot in its skin like a blowhole.
The twigs may be bare and brittle still, but the earth is limbering up underfoot. Walk along the Hoosic and you can see the red-tailed hawks out at dusk and the clean lines of the sycamores. And if you’re up in Hopkins Forest at the right time, the sap house will be boiling.
This column opened the March 10 BTW newsletter. You can find this one and recent newsletters in the newsletter archive, with stories and events, and you can sign up for the free newsletter here any time. It comes out weekly, and you’ll see it in your inbox on Thursday mornings.