I wrote of my life-long difficulty with clocks, calendars and schedules a couple of months ago. They’re human attempts to put the age-old and natural flow of time into artificial boxes that can be measured. It’s not that I resent measuring time or even keeping records of it. It’s just that I’m much more comfortable with the old way of telling time that worked just fine (and usually better) for many thousands of years. True, it’s less precise, but I believe it’s more in harmony with an inner “clock” and “calendar” that each of us still carries. Our distant ancestors lived by that form of time in a way that kept them more closely in harmony with the rest of nature. Their lives depended on knowing when to hunt which animals and when to gather certain foods. No two years are alike, so the only way to know was to keep close track of the signs. Unfortunately, many, if not most, people have not tried to set that ancient inner clock or gently flip the pages of the calendar as nature, in its good time, reveals when it’s appropriate.
We’ve even come up with a science to document and describe that old way of time telling. It’s called phenology, the study of relations between climate and periodic biological phenomena. I realized that those biological phenomena were important to me even though my life no longer depended on it, and long before I learned it was a science. I just felt better noting those natural events and being a bit more in tune with the world around me. Sometimes nature skips over something that I look forward to and I miss it. An example would be the lack of crab apples on a tree in my yard last winter. It didn’t set many last spring, and the few that it did were consumed by squirrels and birds long before winter. That meant no flocks of cedar waxwings and early-arriving robins came to visit as winter finally lost its grip. Maybe the waxwings will visit when the apple tree is in bloom in a few weeks. They love to feast on the flower petals. That would help make up for what I missed earlier and make spring more complete. Sadly, I sometimes miss important natural events not because they fail to happen, but because I fail to observe them when they do.
I took a walk last evening at nearby Hertz Woods south of Nevada. It was just before sunset and still comfortably warm after a glorious spring day when I’d done a lot of yard and garden work. My inner clock needed setting and, as luck would have it, old Mother Nature chimed in an important event. There, on a north-facing hillside, were little patches of white, pink, lavender and soft blue. Hepatica, the first wild flowers of spring, were in full bloom! Sunset light made their colors even warmer and more inviting. A few small insects buzzed around gathering their first flower food of the year. A couple of small orange butterflies sped by, but failed to stop long enough for me to identify them. A few little yellow and blue crocus and deep blue Siberian squill had already bloomed in my yard, but though they are pretty and most welcome, they are domestic and don’t mean as much to me as the parade of native wild flowers that has just begun.
Spring is mostly associated with saying hello to new arrivals and the emergence of new life, but it’s also a time of saying goodbye. I’ll miss the pair of tame little red-breasted nuthatches that kept us company all winter. I haven’t seen them in several days. The quiet little dark-eyed juncos will be following the nuthatches back north to their pine woods nesting areas soon, too. I hope I’ll get to hear a phrase or two of their trilling little spring song before they leave after their winter of silence. There are plenty more events to watch for and appreciate as spring marches forward. There will doubtlessly be some surprises since no two years are the same. Regardless of how this year goes, I’ll feel better just noting as many chimes of that ancient old clock as I can.
Steve Lekwa is the former director of Story County Conservation. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.