March is a month of transitions. I’m not really ready for winter to end but I still have a hankering for spring. For those who feel as I do March is cooperative. One day it will give you snow and ice, and the next day it will rain for 24 hours. Last week the temperatures ranged from two below zero Fahrenheit to fifty degrees! It is a month of being stuck in the middle. Kind of like my present situation where I feel stuck in the middle between being young and old. When you’re young you have seemingly endless energy. When you are older, if you are lucky, you have wisdom; the chance accumulation of knowledge and experience. Both have their distinct advantages.
A few days ago I was wandering around on the edge of a conifer forest in an old beaver meadow. The snow was deep. The previous weekend it had snowed 16 inches on top of the already deep snow pack. Snow shoes were absolutely necessary. The 42 inches of accumulated snow would have been too deep in boots alone. A thick crust on the snow surface aided the snow shoes and supported even the weight of my large frame so that maneuvering about the snowy countryside was downright pleasurable. On this day it was occasionally foggy; the result of warm air associated with an oncoming storm rumbling over the top of layers of cold snow.
Cruising this area can be somewhat challenging. The beaver meadow, a small pond ten years ago, is now thick with willows and alters. I was surprised to see some new beaver cuttings. Perhaps this potential forage was being cut and cached in an upstream beaver pond. The stream ran freely through the breached dam at this location on the southwest corner of the beaver meadow. The sound of moving water could be heard over the steady breeze that carried an impending storm.
As I wandered through the beaver meadow I located two bird nests. They were perched in a group of speckled alders and the nests were covered with lichen. Glancing around I could see that the lichen had been foraged from the bark of balsam fir at edge of this small wetland. The light green lichen would perhaps camouflage the nest in warmer weather, but without foliage this slightly disheveled nest was as naked as a jaybird. The adult cedar waxwings that constructed this nest had chosen a concealed site during the month of May when life and leaves filled this beaver meadow and when it was only clear to those who knew it well as to exactly where home was.
As I often do, I stood there thinking. Almost a year ago two pairs of cedar waxwings chose this old beaver meadow as a site for raising the next generation. It is secluded. It has lots of forage, especially considering waxwings are primarily consumers of fruits and berries and this area contains partridge berry, winterberry holly, wintergreen, silky dogwood, bunchberry, northern arrow-wood, dewberries, and Canada elderberry just to name a few. It is also full of good nesting sites, and has an outrageous selection of great nesting material including twigs, grasses, sedges, lichen, and hordes of peat moss. The two mated pair of birds took advantage of all of these wonderful resources and built a place to raise their young. It was as perfect as perfect can get in the natural world.
The road maps in my mind took my thoughts to a different place and a different time. I found myself thinking about a time when more than thirty years ago my wife and I, both young and full of vim and vigor, cleared land, felled trees, turned the trees into boards and framing material, and built a house. This was our nest. This was where we would raise our two children for the next couple of decades. It was nearly perfect. We had a stream. We made a clearing to raise vegetables. We expanded our clearing and raised goats, pigs, chickens, and a few cows. We had fresh air, clean water, and northwest winds to clear our minds. To us it was as perfect as perfect can get in the natural world.
A strong warm wind blowing in from the southeast brought me back to reality. Mist filled the air as low clouds filled in the beaver valley void. I sought shelter in the dense conifer forest where black spruce, balsam fir, and hemlocks intertwined their branches and hid the sky above. As I navigated my way through the evergreens I stopped at a small, nearly round, clearing. The sky was open. The ground was uneven and full of shrubs and saplings. Bare branches held secrets of times long passed. And underneath the snow the red sphagnum moss hid waiting for the first sunlight of the year so that it could begin the next year’s growth and revert back to the emerald green color that so often signifies life.
This tiny oasis of deciduous shrubs in a dense section of boreal forest was the result of a fallen tree. It fell long ago; most likely in a high wind. Its shallow roots resting on compact dense silty soils could not resist the powerful force of nature. The tree fell. The large root ball of the tree would eventually decompose and settle. It was not just a small earthen mound where small shrubs could grow above the water table. It was a chance respite for seeds transplanted by birds and mammals that would host a new and divergent plant community. Some might call it a stroke of luck.
I sat on an old log. Again my thoughts weaved their way through the tangled web in my mind and found a place in the past. I was 23 years old. I saw an advertisement in the reality section of a local newspaper under “Land for Sale”. Why I called the realtor I have no idea. I had no money. He showed me a piece of property. I loved what I saw; a brook, deep woods, it was located on a secluded dirt road, and best of all it was very inexpensive. I borrowed the small down payment from grandmother and purchased the land. I now had a place to hold my heart and spirit; a chance respite for a transplanted soul and a piece of land to host my new adventures. More, I found love. Some might call it a stroke of luck. I call it destiny.
As I travel through the conifer forest I find myself climbing a low gradient hill. The forest composition changes from firs and spruce to pines and hemlock. The snows that were shallow under the dense boreal cover become deep again. I remember it is March; the month of transitions. And I realize it’s not so bad being caught between winter and spring. The moment is now and I’m alive, in love with my wild surroundings and still willing.
Yes, I am still willing.
Written for www.wildramblings.com in March of 2011.