Northern Spring

It’s noisy outside. Springtime is the listening season, and nature’s volume is all the way up. Birdsong fills the air with a dozen recognizable melodies and double that of tunes by unknown artists. Chickadees are my favorite hit makers today, whistling their zippity doo dah salute to the morning and dancing past my head with that shuffling card deck sound of their rapid-fire wing flutters. Staccato hammer blows in the woods means the trunk of a dead spruce will soon look more like a whiffle ball, thanks to the determined beak of a pileated woodpecker. A tawny brown chipmunk crinkles open a sunflower seed and stuffs it in his mouth, repeating until its cheeks swell past capacity.

  At the lakeshore, a gnarled oak leaf shrunken with age and the weight of winter snow suddenly lifts on a mini tempest of wind into a pirouette at my feet. Three other leaves join the circular waltz, dancing stem to lobe in a tick-ticking beat. I move to step around the fray and jump at the gunshot slap of a beaver’s tail, the stealthy critter previously invisible. He resurfaces past the reed bed, still gripping a stubby birch branch with home construction in its future.

  A dozen mergansers engage in earnest, murmured conversation farther out on the water—or perhaps that is a merganser way to wax poetically on the brilliance of a sunny, cobalt sky and a receding ice floe. I listen in but the waterfowl chatter is overshadowed by whale song.

  The ice has relaxed its shore to shore grip, and every spring announces it with a fantastical ode to warmer waters uncannily similar to the songs of whales in a deep ocean. There is audible life in the otherwise static, frozen sheet and the refrain is often accompanied by space movie laser sounds or the severe birth of a crack heaving a huge, horizontal iceberg from its host.

  The mood is decidedly different at shoreline. A tortilla-thin layer of ice covers water so clear it seems no water is there. Small birch branches hover in suspended animation just below the surface, and a young perch glides by, its shadow close behind. Reflected on the ice, the big white pine slowly sways to the west and back again, a light wind breathing a melody through the tree’s needles.

  I sit at the base of an aged birch, lean back to its trunk, and listen. Ne’er a fairer place to be than in a northern spring.