Wednesday, May 29, 2024

A lot to learn from spring, take advantage while it’s here

| May 28, 2020 1:00 AM

When you drop a turkey shell onto the ground and it goes thunk and you bend over to pick it up you have confirmed a wonderful thing:

You are standing smack in the middle of a new spring.

On the other hand, when the shell drops almost silently and you’re on your knees to look, combing through the calf-length grass like Greta Garbo’s hand maiden, perplexed at the ability of natural things to so quickly conceal and stow away the spoils of the season, you are in a different place entirely.

It means, spring is pretty much gone. It’s almost over the hill, but there’s still time to catch it.

Soon it will be RVs on the narrow river roads like the last herds of mountain buffalo holding up the pony express. Temperatures will nod off around 80 degrees, and phrases like “in the heat of the day,” will be barely discerned while lying in the hammock with a glass of iced tea slipping from your weakening grip.

Sure, there’s September to look forward to, but why do that?

You have just passed through the most marvelous time of the year, that period between March when mornings no longer require more than a couple of sticks of fir in the wood stove, and May when early sun through the fog highlights the land like a Broadway play.

The main actors are shaggy elk and deer, coyotes sticking close to a den, bears in the green alluvial grass, fanning turkeys with skittish hens and vast swaths of morning coming alive in a panoply of birdsong and the aroma of gratitude.

On a mountain hike this spring a friend came across an elk calf lying at trail’s edge and snapped a picture.

“The spotted elk have landed,” she said.

Once on a road in the hills where I lived, a cow elk stopped my pickup as its wobbly calf came off the embankment, fell, got back on its wiggly legs, and angled over the road and into a woodland pasture where it plunked into the grass.

The cow let me pass then, as she followed the offspring into the meadow while I slowly accelerated and went on my way.

Driving by the same place the other day, I noticed the meadow is almost overgrown and barely visible. Aspen and fir have crept in. The grass was getting long — almost deep enough to hide a shotgun shell — and the path that I once found ambling down to the creek hadn’t been used for a while.

It was barely visible.

Someone should trod it and enjoy the spring creek down there before it turns into a stagnant summer marsh.

The window of spring — six weeks, or eight weeks, whatever it is — is the best time to find shed antlers a man who found a lot of them said.

He went out with his children making a day of it for a few weekends each April and May, and they fished the creeks before the water got a mad rush of runoff.

Summer is good, don’t get me wrong.

I give summer the shirt off my back, but spring — and there’s more left at higher elevations — is the territory between ease and discomfort. It doesn’t let you off the hook with its frequent rainshowers and changing weather. It tests you first and then rewards you. It slaps you with numbing wind, then takes you by the hand over warm fields of small flowers. It does this in the same hour of the only morning you could get away that week, and just as you cozy up to the trail and the soft squawking and trills of yellow blackbirds and swamp wrens, it rolls in a bit of thunder.

It’s like a parent that way.

And maybe that’s why it’s so illuminating.

And why we miss it when it goes.

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Ralph Bartholdt writes the Outdoors column for the Coeur d’Alene Press. He can be reached at