I was bent over the passenger-side front fender of a 2015 Subaru Sunday, trying to swap a burned-out headlight for a replacement that didn’t want to fit. That’s when I heard the distinctive sound. It’s like the call of a flock of geese, but with the reverb turned up.
When we hear this raucous noise sweeping over the hills around us up at the Sandhill Llama Farm, we know the tundra swans are passing through. They didn’t call ahead to ask if Covid-19 would affect our ability to host them on their travels from their wintering grounds on the Atlantic coast and Chesapeake Bay to the arctic reaches of Canada where they spend the summer.
Nature goes on. The huge but elegant white birds with the black eye patches make their way through the Fox Valley each spring before Easter. They gather by the hundreds – some years by the thousands – in the flooded cabbage fields along Hwy. 54 between Shiocton and Black Creek. You can go there to see them, but they have been practicing social distancing for centuries and won’t come much closer than the limit of a 300 mm lens.
I paused to listen to the call of spring before moving over to the driver’s side of the Subaru, where the burned-out bulb actually was, and where the replacement slid in easily.
The swans are just one player in the spring drama of the wildlife returning to our fields. It is happening as it always does, about the only part of life still normal.
A pair of sandhill cranes has been trumpeting the arrival of daylight in the hayfield for a couple of weeks already and the bluebird couple has started picking up bits of alpaca wool and other homebuilding materials to create this year’s nest in one of our bluebird boxes.
Nature continues on. Soon the orioles will be demanding a refill on the grape jelly in the feeder. Shortly after that, the hummingbirds will hover in front of the kitchen window as the price for getting more sugar water. Their arrival is just the beginning of an ongoing show that will delight us throughout the summer.
Also seeking nectar, natural or brought to boil on the stovetop, are the monarchs. They also offer graceful flight to assure their welcome, but add to it the miracle of a stubby green worm turning into orange and black living artwork.
But you don’t see all of the signs of the season by looking up. Spring flowers – ephemerals they’re called for their short but beautiful flower display – have their assigned places on the spring calendar as well.
The little, yellow cups of the marsh marigold are spring’s first flower. The spring beauty’s subtle shades of purple follow quickly. Bloodroot unfurls its hand-sized intricate leaves wrapped around the flower stem. Underground, the red dye-producing roots explain the name the native people gave it. Hepatica proves green can come in subtle shades, too.
The rest of the floral show takes a backseat when the trillium push up their crepey white flowers. All too soon they take on a purple tint and drop their petals. They’re so … ephemeral.
The rest of the world may turn topsy-turvy, but you can count on nature going on.
Photo Credit: David Horst
Note: The Children & Nature Network has consulted with members of the public health community who assure us that encouraging outside time, especially nearby home and at a distance of at least 6 feet from others, is not only safe but recommended for reducing anxiety, depression, loneliness, and other ailments that come with social isolation.
Additional Reading & Resources
10 Nature Activities to Help Get Your Family Through the Coronavirus Pandemic
Noah’s New Ark: Environmental Catastrophe and the Power of Love by Richard Louv for Psychology Today
FIRE AND FERMENTATION: Tragedy and Renewal
Nature RX: The Best Medicine
TOGETHER IN NATURE Pathways to a Stronger, Closer Family
C&NN’s Nature Clubs for Families Tool Kit