Blog : Spring

Mushroom Time

Mushroom Time

When an acorn falls in the forest a squirrel eats it. The squirrels wait for the acorns, then the acorns drop from the trees, and then the squirrels eat the acorns. It’s really not so difficult.  Some of the acorns are washed away in fast fall rains, buried under piles of leaves and silt, hidden away from the gluttonous squirrels.  The next spring that acorn shell will crack, and a tiny oak tree will emerge.  Over some time, the oak tree will grow tall and thick and we’ll look at it proudly and say, “now that’s a tree”.

In the same way a farmer will soon sow his Wisconsin field. He’ll till the soil and fertilize the soil and my wife will stand on the side of the field and picket his seed provider. He’ll plant corn seeds and after a germination period of a week or so, the baby corn plant will emerge. It’ll grow and it’ll tassel and by early August the corn stalk will have healthy, golden ears of corn. The farmer will wait for the drying of September and the hardening of October and then, or in the month that follows, he’ll harvest.

The farmer doesn’t have days to harvest his field. He has weeks. Sometimes, he’ll leave his field up over the winter, if the cash prices are too low and the granaries are too full, he’ll opt for the cheap storage of an upright field. The corn is already dry, not willing to rot, and the deer can only eat so much of it. The farmer, though he moves in November with urgency, has plenty of time to harvest his corn.

If the acorn is allowed to grow and the oak tree emerges, this is generally accepted as a good thing. Who doesn’t like a sturdy oak tree? It makes for a good leanin’ tree and an outstretched branch of enough heft will make for a wonderful tire swing support.  There’s nothing immediate about an oak tree. No window that opens and closest abruptly. And there’s nothing immediate about a corn stalk, about the way it grows and the way it greens and then turns to gold and offers its seeds to anyone.

These things are not true with the mysterious morel. The mushroom sprouts from the earth, pushes, really, emerges, sort of. It grows and then it’s there and the next day it isn’t. Was it picked by a fellow trespasser? A woman with a wagon is pretending to pick up garbage on the side of this road, but is she really harboring a vast bounty of stolen fungus? Or was it kicked off accidentally by a bounding deer. Or pecked at, momentarily, by a strutting turkey. Where did that mushroom go?

No one really knows. It’s here now and it’s gone tomorrow. Maybe it lasts a week. But the wind blows and the tips dry and the bugs eat and the rain swamps. There’s no reasoning to this madness. It’s mushroom madness, really. Which is followed closely by Morel Blindness; a condition that strikes at the most inopportune of times. The season is upon us, and unlike the lazy corn or the sturdy oak, this isn’t a game for the passive. It’s a game for those who have work to do but would rather find their way to the dead trees and the sunny southern slopes. It’s mushroom time, ready or not.

Colors

Colors

By now, we all know that things haven’t been going our way. We started out with that winter, so intent on enjoying it and skiing it and sledding it, scraping and shoveling it, too. But what happened wasn’t anything like that. We skied, a bit. Shoveled, a bit. Scraped, some. But the winter had come and the winter has left and nothing really happened. It was a winter without. We knew what would come next, and we waited and we waited and in February it came. Bright spring. Sunny spring. Warm and soft, spring.

That was a few days, maybe four, and it was February and no one thought it was really spring. Winter returned, but it was easy winter, annoying winter, just enough winter to ward off spring.  That winter relapse was quickly forgotten and there have been days of spring, days of warm, soft sun, and days of wicked wind, biting cold. Then the rains came, so many rains with so much water, sheets and sheets and buckets and buckets. No one thought it could last, but it did, and it washed our streets and soaked our lawns and filled our lakes.  The season isn’t so much spring, it’s just a rainy winter.

There are barns between my house and this desk. Many barns. Most are clad in metal, some form of sheet paneling either vertical or horizontal, typically in fleshy tones of white, gray, or brown. In the winter landscape, these barns blend in, offering no excitement, no allure, just utilitarian usefullness. But there is one barn painted the brightest of reds, and in the winter it is a beacon on my drive, a visual reminder that color exists even in the dullest of dark winters. In the spring, too, when the ground is gray and what isn’t is brown, and the tans of the cut corn stalks and the dull olive of the roadside grass means everything is quiet and stark, that barn shines bright and vivid, a reminder of color in an otherwise colorless world.

But these rains and this sky and this gray and this brown, it’s not all bad. My eyes can rest under this sky. There’s no strain here, no squint to see beyond the glow, because there is no glow. It’s just March in Wisconsin and things are easy on the eyes. The north side of Geneva Street is greening this morning.  The grass is greening and the bulbs are shooting and the crocus is blooming. The dull wrens of winter are being crowded out by the orange breasted robins of spring, and soon, the elusive Orioles will coast in on a southerly breeze in search of our fresh cut oranges and our purple grape jelly.  The piers are falling into place, now dulled and chipped by the winter but soon scraped and painted and bright again. The water is warming, slowly, but it’s warming and it’s still blue, even in the face of so much gray it is still blue. The grass is greening and the flowers are awakening and the sky is brightening and soon it’ll be the spring we’ve seen in our minds all winter. Prepare your eyes, the color is coming.

 

Photo courtesy Kirsten Westlake

 

March

March

There’s a thing about March. It is, without any question, the worst month of the year. If you disagree, that’s fine, but I know deep down inside that I’m right. This is the key to winning arguments.  It’ll probably snow in March. It might snow today. It’ll probably be 65 in March, maybe 70. There is no ice left, that’s true of this March but not a typical March. What’s typical? March doesn’t know. March has no idea what it is, just that it came in like a lion and so it must go out like a lamb. March has no choice but to be the in between. Not winter, not spring, just something. A month, a space filler, a void. Ugliness, it will be at home here in March.

February, that’s winter all the way. Except this last February, where it was only a bit of winter but really none at all. It was spring. February showers bring May flowers, because in March, what could grow? February showers do nothing but wash some of the grit from the road and leave us wondering if we should rake out the fall leaves that accumulated behind our summer bushes, or if we should just put the rake away and prepare the shovel. It must snow again, right? It has to. It will. March, that’s when it’ll snow.

But this is the commentary of the weather obsessed, a troop I once belonged to, a long, long time ago. I broke free from those chains, from the chains that held my poor grandmother hostage for so long, in fact, right up to the moment of her death. I no longer live and die on weather, and when I see others proclaiming their misery simply based on the color of the sky I have to wonder why they, too, haven’t yet sought the salvation that comes from skyward ambivalence. I won’t care today that it’s gray and raining, and so I won’t care that March will be lots of that, with a bit of snow, or a lot of snow, who could say?

See, I don’t care about the weather anymore, not one bit. And it has led me to a place where things are much better. Wintery weather is just a reason to own skis. Rain is just a reason to own a house with a sturdy roof. And the summer sun is just a reason I must visit the dermatologist with increasing frequency. See, completely and entirely unconcerned about the weather. That’s why I can look to March not as an ugly month of the in-between, but rather as a month to prepare.   March isn’t spring, but the month sounds like spring, and when spring comes then summer follows. This is how it all works.  March is for preparing.

And what better time to prepare than when the skies are gray and the temperatures not cold enough to snow sport and not warm enough to do anything productive under the sun? There is no better time to prepare, and that’s why those who own lake houses shouldn’t sit around and wait for March to be over. They shouldn’t rest, contented in knowing that summer is still months away. I’m continually amazed by the lack of March motivation amongst the lake set. May, now that’s when they feel the burden of preparedness. But in March they don’t care. Must I remind you that last May we had summer that began as  early as the 20th of that month? How on earth can you enjoy instant and immediate summer if you spent March in the malls and on your couch?

If you’re a lake home owner, March is for getting ready. March is for buying a new grill because we all know your old grill is terrible. And why are you buying a Weber when we all know you can do better? March is for cleaning the gear room, where the life vests and the fishing poles and the paddle boards were hastily crammed last October. March is for doing the things that will make May so much better. But what about for those who don’t yet own lake homes? What about those who sit in the city or lounge in the suburbs, wondering what week long road trip they might take to pretend they enjoyed their summer? Well, March is a forgiving month for those people. March is a month for shopping. March is a month for buying. Yes, you should have been thinking about this last October, but you didn’t, because the Cubs were on their way to the World Series and you are forgiven for being obsessed. But now, this March, you’re running out of time but you still have plenty.

March is for getting ready. March is for looking. March is for contract writing, and then April is for closing.  Then May is for preparing and June is for enjoying your weekends in an entirely different way. If you haven’t even begun your search, that’s fine. Let’s get together this month. Let’s drive around and find something perfect. Let’s do this now because it’s March and there’s really nothing else to do.

Spring

Spring

Spring started a couple of months ago. I guess it was in March. March is when spring starts, the calendar says. Before that, it’s winter. And when spring ends, it’ll be summer. That’s how this whole thing works. Spring comes and the birds chirp and the grass greens and the weeds need pulling. Yesterday, some animals ate the tops off of some poppies that are growing in my garden. The tops, right off. Now I have to deal with that, which is an issue for me, because I’m busy and it’s my birthday and I don’t feel like shooshing away poppy eating varmint. I can’t kill them, because I’m still too soft. Even at this grizzled age I can’t kill things.

When spring started, it started with some wind and some rain and then some snow, still with the wind.  Rain again, wind. Windy, some sun, rain.  We had good weekends during this spring, more good than bad, in fact. That’s not something anyone would debate. The weekends, three of the last four, have been really solid. This weekend that starts right about now is going to be lame, so just plan on it. Three out of five isn’t bad, especially for spring. Because spring, with its birds and its flowers and all the greening, it’s really a terrible season. It’s good for, almost literally, nothing.

Sure we can shake off winter, slowly. But that’s because we have no choice. We can’t abandon winter and jump to summer, because when we make that jump we have to stay nimble, because we’re just going to end up jumping back. Boating on Sunday, shivering on Monday. Rain on Tuesday. Sun on Wednesday! Wind Thursday. Rain Friday. Tolerable Saturday. Sunny Sunday! This is the cycle and who could love it? Not me, not now, and I don’t care about the birds singing and the grass growing and the rest of it.

And what of these birds? What are they? I love when the Sandhill Crane honks and calls its way across the sky. A hunter told me this year that those birds are delicious. He said he’s heard from other people that they are the Filet of the Sky. Sounds delicious, I thought, and when he said it I could see that he knew about the taste from experience, and then I wondered what he does in those dark, deep woods he owns. I wouldn’t ever tell you that a bird I’ve never eaten is the Filet of the Sky, even if I’d read it in a book somewhere.  And the birds at my feeders, they’re not the good kind of birds. Another neighbor has Orioles. Bushels and flocks and baskets full of Orioles. I have a feeder dedicated to the Oriole and they don’t even consider it. Two years ago I did, but not this year. Not last year, either. My neighbor gets them all, and so I’m left with my wrens. I am the Wren King, which isn’t really such an incredible thing. I’d rather be the Oriole King, and they’d call me Cal.

But on Facebook some people have said Happy Birthday, so that’s something spring is good for. Another year older. Milestones, not really. There are no milestones in middle age, just decade markers. I’ll be at a new decade two springs from now, and then I’ll write something about it, assuming I’m still here writing three days a week, even though that’s unlikely if you don’t actually email me to tell me you’re ready to buy a house. Come to Lake Geneva, where we have so much spring we can hardly take it! We have sun and rain and wind and green and birds and poppy-eating rabbits, usually we even have them all on the same day.

Instant Summer

Instant Summer

As I understand it, when the temperature drops in Florida panic ensues. Someone rushes to the store to buy supplies. Another person hurries out to throw blankets on the orange trees. Some old woman goes to the store to buy plastic so she can cover up her garden flowers that look the same in January as they do in July.  Jackets fly off shelves, water bottles are scarce, gas lines wrap around palm-tree lined blocks. Things are not as bad as they could be, like when Atlanta experiences gridlock from 1/2 inch of snow, but things are generally very, very bad. This is what happens when the soft people face weather based adversity.

Compare that with those of us who live in this place. Last fall, it was nearly Thanksgiving. We had set out our finest dried corn arrangements and dusted off our turkey based decor. We were ready to celebrate the fall harvest. Then, just days before the fall event, it snowed. It snowed a lot. It was, as I recall, our largest snowfall of the winter and it happened a month before winter was set to start. Did anything strange happen as a result of this strange event? Did we rush to the stores and leave the shelves bare? Did we hoard gasoline in our red containers, expecting things to go from bad to worse?  Or did we all just wake up and go to work, knowing that Thanksgiving would be just fine, if a bit white and a tad wet?

It was pretty nice out last Thursday. Warm, a bit windy, but sunny and pleasant. Friday was more of the same, and while showings homes that afternoon I spied the canopy crews diligently snapping up pier canvas.  Lawn crews bustled and hustled, raking and thatching and fertilizing and mowing. The grass has been green for a while now, but it hasn’t been this green since last August. The harbor has been filling with boats since the middle of last month, but now it’s fuller, and the detailers are hard at work shining and washing and buffing those floating fiberglassed houses. On Friday it looked as though things were working out in our favor, but it couldn’t be forgotten that less than one week before I had been skiing on a thick base of white snow in this same state.

Saturday awoke sunny and calm and finished sunny and calm. In between the same pier crews bolted in their piers while the canopy crews snapped on their canvas. The lawn men raked and mowed and trimmed and mulched. The efforts were smooth and rehearsed, never mind that it’s mid April and in any other year we might not see this sort of pier activity until the first week of May.  By Saturday afternoon the boats began to appear in greater numbers. Sailing scows slowly cut their zigs and zags from one point to another. The powerboats chugged and others raced, some just spun a slow circle around the lake to see what they had missed over the winter that started on that Sunday before Thanksgiving.  New homes have been built, others razed. New pools are going in, patios expanded, landscaping made different, made better.

This exploratory spring ride is necessary for each boat owner, and by Saturday the discovery of spring was well underway. Sunday it continued, more boats, more sun, warmer temps still. Stand Up Paddle boarders plied the water, the women wearing bikinis under that hot April sun. Kayakers paddled their way from one place to another, their peace interrupted only by the slow rolling wake of a Streblow or two. A Lyman heading West, the crew in short sleeves and sunglasses, holding their faces to the sun, reveling in the chance. I sat on those pier chairs above and watched it unfold on that summery afternoon of April. It doesn’t take us long here to ready ourselves for this coming season.  In fact, it doesn’t take us anytime at all. There is no panic. We launch the boats and zinc our noses and begin the march towards the season we wish would last longer than any other. Sure it’s only April, but the best way to enjoy summer is to indulge it the moment it teases us with a warm afternoon and a gentle breeze more befitting August than April.

 

Just A Dusting

Just A Dusting

It’s snowing again. And the coffee tasted the same. The man at the corner with the portable Stop sign waved, but he didn’t want to. The FREE AIR at the gas station was still free, the hose coiled on the ground, dirty and wet. Just a dusting. The man on the television said it would be just a dusting, maybe an inch, two tops, but probably just a dusting. That’s what he said last week, Saturday.  The wind blew and blew and the snow came in bands, alternating the sky between bright blue and dark with snow. Just a dusting he promised, but it was more than a dusting, it was an inch.

My car has a low tire. It’s had the low tire for a month, maybe longer. The tire is new, which leads me to believe that there’s a nail somewhere in the tread, maybe a screw. Whatever it is, it’s sharp and it’s stuck in that tire and that’s why I leave the car in my garage most of the time.  I washed the car a month ago, under an intense spring sun, so bright and so big that the water dried on the car too fast and now I have hard water streaks and spots. The snow today will help with that, but the snow might be hard too, even though there’s barely a dusting in the forecast. There’s more than that on the hood of the car already.

The fire is on again. I say it’s on, rather than it’s burning, because it’s a fire for lazy cheats. There’s a gas line under all that soot, and so when I make the fire it’s really just about turning a valve and then sparking a lighter. I bought the lighter at the gas station two days ago, about one month after the last lighter, the winter lighter, gave out. When I bought the lighter I felt nervous, like a kid buying a lighter because I was going to go have a smoke with the cigarettes I found on the side of the road when I was walking home from school. It was spring then, too. So I told the gas station clerk that the lighter was for my fireplace, because I didn’t want her to wonder.

The fire burns but it only burns because of the lit gas. I don’t have kindling here. There’s paper, some of the local one with my name in it because I’m a rebel who doesn’t like mass development when there aren’t masses of people to buy the mass produced vinyl sided product. But I don’t burn that paper because I throw it out. I mean, I recycle it. Yes, I recycle it, that’s what I meant to say. The fire burns wood that came from Black Point, from the back yard of a client’s house where he cuts down small, dead trees and stacks the cylinder-like logs. I load those into my fishing truck that’s really a silver Lexus and I drive those to my office. My son loads the wood into my open storage containers and when he’s done I give him $2.

It’ll snow for a while still, I think. The man on the TV said it was only going to snow for a little longer, but no one believes him anymore. It might snow all day, it might not. It might be like last Sunday when the temperature rose 40 degrees during the day and then started the next morning where it had started the prior one. What sort of warm front only lasts a few hours? I asked the weatherman through his Twitter account but the question stumped him, so he didn’t answer. It’s spring now and it’ll only be a dusting.

Spring

Spring

The trees in my front yard are budding. The trees in my back yard are budding. The trees at my office are budding. I’d be willing to bet most of my things and some of yours that the trees in your yard are budding, too.  The streams run high today, high with runoff from the thundery rain that fell on Sunday and again last night. The worms that will dry and die on my driveway today are the same worms that will dry and die on your driveway. Is it better to be those worms that must wait for the drying death or better to be the worms that washed into the trout streams where they will be eaten by the hungry trout that spent all winter wondering where the worms went? I’d prefer the stream worms, because at least they have an option. That’s more than we have.

The silence of winter has been replaced with a most boisterous cacophony of birds. Song birds, little birds, big birds. In fact, birds so big that they swarm overheard in such great clouds, headed from the south and to the north, stopping here to breed, or to rest, or to eat our worms and rile up our dogs. The Sandhill Cranes are the superior Crane, making the Blue Heron look like a silly thing, like a small thing, like an unimportant thing. The Sandhill announces its arrival with such a great squawk that even the song birds and the Robins seek shelter.

The ice of winter is generally quiet. The expansion booms and echoes are loud, but the rest of it is quiet. That quiet ice is all gone now, replaced with wind whipped waves that crash into shore and loudly announce their return. They’re here now, the waves, and the water is anything but quiet. On Sunday, it was quiet, still, flat and smooth. The rare birds flew high over head and the song birds hid in the bushes that we’ll only know to be lilacs once they bloom, which is around the time the smallmouth bite heats up and the morels push free from the soil. It’s not quiet anymore.

But in the quiet of winter there are things we can do. I skied this winter for the first time since childhood, and I skied so much that you’d think I enjoyed it more than I did. I made fires this winter, so many that it would be foolish to attempt a count. There were morning fires and evening fires, and yes, afternoon fires, too. There were fires upon fires, and when Able Dave comes to clean my chimney he’ll stand back and wonder the age of my house. Who could burn so many fires in such a short period of time, he’ll wonder.

In the winter, the waiting is accepted. There’s nothing to do but burn those fires, ski those slopes, pack that snow, and wait. We wait in the quiet in the winter. But it’s spring now, and we still must wait. Now we wait in the noise, we wait in the wind and the thunder and under the lightening and around those birds. They’re chirping again, even though it’s colder today and it’s windier today and the ice is still gone and those overhead birds have been grounded. The worms are drying and others are being eaten. It’s getting louder, and soon it’ll be summer. The noise is the only sign we need.

Gray Sky Rising

Gray Sky Rising

It’s gray again. It was gray yesterday, too. The same gray as this gray. There is no different variety of gray now. The only change comes later, when the gray twists and builds and puffs dark and mean, wet. This gray today isn’t yet like that gray, the warmer gray, the spring gray that brings the showers which yield the spring flowers that look very little like summer flowers. Summer flowers bloom and bloom, many times, for months even. Spring flowers bloom once, a display that shows what they are and all they can be, hiding nothing, holding nothing back, and like that, gone. The gray builds and the temperatures rise and out West they’ll be saying it’s going to be hot. El Nino they’ll say, but we won’t know what that really means until we’re sweating in our beds at night, wondering why it’s so windy, so wet, so warm and gray. This gray isn’t like that gray.

But this gray is a good gray, because it’s the gray that means things are changing. It might be gray in January, but that gray isn’t like this gray. January is brighter, in my memory anyway, because it’s white and it’s bright and the cold fronts that spell below zero nighttime lows also spell bluebird days. Days so bright and so clear and so cold that there’s nothing to do with them, nothing at all. Squinting is not something.  Who could love a day like that, besides my grandmother? My Norwegian grandmother loved the sunny days of January, because she had nothing to do but sit inside, and if you must sit inside then it might be better to find a sunny sky through those small double hung windows.  I’d rather sit in the warmth of a fireside room with the gray outside because that day can be spent brooding. Who could brood on a sunny January day?  My German grandmother didn’t care about the sun, because she had plates to fire and cakes to build and there’s no reason for the sun to shine when those things must be done.  I don’t like the bright of a winter January because I associate the bright with the cold and the cold doesn’t bother me as much as it used to but I still don’t care for it. A cold sun is a useless sun, no matter how hard it tries to convince you otherwise.

But it’s gray again today and it’s been gray since Monday. Friday, gray. Monday, gray. The days in between, all gray. Except at night, when the sun falls so low that it sneaks some light in pink and purple and orange under that shroud.  The end of the day, a twinkle of warmth in the Western sky. That sunset is later now than it was then, it’s light until 6 and soon it will be light until 7 and then we’ll be walking outside without jackets and we’ll put in our boats and we’ll sit on piers and we’ll complain about other things.  The days are warmer now, cold still,  but a warmer cold. A gray cold, the sort of gray and the sort of cold that tells us it’s soon to be spring. Spring. It’s coming soon, and it’s coming next week, because in the fifth grade they told us that we could spend recess outside without jackets on as soon as the temperature hit 60 degrees. Who could play Four Square with a jacket on? Not me, and so we’d take our jackets off and throw them on the ground and hope the teachers didn’t see. It was only 55, but it felt like 60 and no one could argue with that.

So today, it’ll be gray. Tomorrow, sun. Sunday, who could say? It doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters now is that each day is longer, each week warmer. Even when certain days buck the pattern the results are already in. Spring is coming, and it can’t be stopped. The bright days of winter are gone and the dull gray days that mark our slow transition are here. My grandmother is no longer alive to object.