Spring has sprung – or so says the calendar with the Spring Equinox occurring on March 20th. Equinoxes occur twice a year, in March and September, to mark the onset of spring and autumn. During an equinox, which in Latin translates to “equal night,” both day and night are the same in length. Now the days will become longer in our part of the world with earlier sunrises and sunsets. But just because we are officially in spring doesn’t mean that it is spring-like yet. Those of us in the northeast will attest to that as we prepare for the 4th Nor’easter in three weeks! The ground is snow covered with huge piles, lakes have refrozen after earlier thaws, and the trees look as dormant as they do in January. However, changes are happening.
Typically, late winter/early spring sees the preparation for maple sugaring season when the landscape becomes dotted with iconic metal sap buckets hung on trees, as well as the more modern bright rubber tubing and large sap collection vats. This year the collection season in New England had an early start in many areas with a thaw at the end of January and into February. Then winter roared back in, and now maple syrup producers are hoping for a second stretch of classic sugaring weather with days in the low 40s and nights below freezing, and before trees start producing buds and the maple season ends. It’s not too late to check out maple sugar houses and treat yourself to some “sugar on snow”.
Mating and nesting season has already begun for some of our wonderful birds. Last night, as I looked out over our snow-covered forest, I heard a Barred Owl concert of the familiar “Whooo cooks for you” call. Then this morning I was greeted by the mournful, soft cooing of the Mourning Dove. The birds are not alone, many of our common mammals are coming out of their dormant or less active winter state, to start their spring mating as well. The squirrels and chipmunks have been wildly chasing around in the trees, across our roof, and even taking sledding runs on the snowbanks around our driveway. The current snow is a benefit to picking out animal signs like the tracks of porcupine, fox, and fishers as they become more active as the days grow longer. Even with the winter-like weather, the spring awakening of the natural world is happening.
Perhaps one of those signs that reminds me in such a simple way that warm days are coming is when I park my car in a sunny spot. Even if the outside temperature is cold, the stronger, higher angle of sunshine warms up the inside of the car, and now when I get in, instead of mid-winter frigid, it can be downright toasty. Yep, it may not look like it, but spring has arrived.
Camp is settling in for its long winter’s rest. It’s quite beautiful though different, to walk the land now. The dried grass sparkles with frost in the sunlight. Most of the trees are bare, with the exception of the Oaks who hold their dead leaves until into the winter. All the trees have settled into their resting time. To survive the cold, they have become “dormant”, a significant slowing of their growth and energy consumption. The gift of the leafless trees is seeing so many birds’ nests that were hidden in the canopy all summer. Our beautiful ferns, which are so prolific during the warmer months, have died back showing just their short brown stalks topped by seedpods. There are places on the paths where you can see ice crystals pushing their way above the surface as the annual ground freeze begins. The lake is still open water but it has undergone its “turnover”, when the warmer oxygen-filled surface layer, cools and sinks to the bottom. This begins the vital process of re-oxygenating and bringing nutrients to the deep cold water. Soon the lake will freeze, and everything underneath will rest.
Animals are also preparing for the winter. The porcupine that was seen in the Apple Tree field is active in the winter but has fattened up and grown a thicker under-layer of fur. Even the porcupines’ quills help to insulate them from the cold and wind, so you might just see a porcupine at this time of year. You won’t see our woodchucks – they are true hibernators, and you won’t hear our Loons as they have migrated to the open water of the ocean. However, one animal you will see scurrying about through winter, are the squirrels. They’ve had a banner year storing up caches of one their favorite foods – acorns from all of our Oak trees.
Soon the snow will cover the land, and then the long winter’s rest will truly begin.
Saturday night was an interesting one at camp, as dusk fell and Runoia campers headed back to their cabins after milk and crackers the usual evening sounds were disrupted by an unearthly cacophony. Typically the evening is quite and is only punctuated by the calls of loons on the lake or the high pitched call of the osprey on their way to roost.
We felt like we were in a scene from Jurassic Park and were certain a flock of velociraptors were about to descend on the kickball field. We couldn’t imagine what was making the screeching sounds that were echoing around us. Certainly not just one night creature but a whole collection out there in the dark talking to each other in a language we could not understand.
Heading up to the PS, in the now very dusky light I was amazed to see three owls on the big oak tree. It became apparent that they were the producers of the bizarre noises. Bobbing heads and hopping along the branch they were calling to other owls across the field. While it is not unusual to hear one or two owls in the early morning or evening these sounds were new to me.
After some research and discussion it was determined that the owls were fledgling barred owls out for their flying lessons. They were still at it at 4 am but must have eventually figured it out as by the time the sun came up they were all gone and there hasn’t been a repeat performance since. We have been lucky enough to see a mature owl swooping low over senior end and keep our eyes alert in the dusky light on our way down to bed.
At Runoia I am constantly reminded of the Navajo prayer “Now I walk in beauty, beauty is before me, beauty is behind me, above and below me.” We are so lucky to spend our summer in such a beautiful location, embracing all of the natural world that surrounds us.