Only a mountain has lived long enough
to listen objectively to the howl of a wolf.
A Sand County Almanac
It is becoming unsafe out on the ice of the interior lakes that stretch across the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. The snowmelt has created slush. On some of the surfaces, the white light of ice is darkening.
It is a time of waiting. Islands are inaccessible except to a few. Stores are absent of tourists since it is an in-between season. Winter is receding. Spring is not yet here. While we wait for summer, the warmth is tentative and fleeting.
Yesterday, the temperatures dropped, and it wanted to snow. For a few moments, snowflakes drifted down and then stopped. The first robins gathered on lawns facing south.
It is a time of migration. The snow buntings blew in as a swirl and are now gone. For the first time, a loon was heard out on the big lake. Canada geese are back from their winter ranges but are scattered. Soon, the hummingbirds will arrive.
The dogwood lining the ditches and clinging to open space, with their burnished red set against the muted browns of the open woods, have been with us all winter. The willows are just beginning to open with their soft cotton announcing early spring.
The world is waiting. There is enough warmth now to be held for several hours each day. Light is extending, and the sun has moved far from the horizon line where it made its home all through December and January.
It is a restless time. People depart on trips to capture and to steal from spring a few moments where they can pre-empt summer. But often they come back to a colder world and a less inviting one. Time has passed but the season has not.
One writer, John Bates, in the collection A Northwoods Companion, writes of this time of year:
I have always wondered why we have April Fool’s Day.
I can think of no better reason than the absolutely
foolish notion that spring arrives here by April 1.
It is something our whole constitution does not want to accept. It is as though we were bred, with the coming of the new light and the extension of the day, to anticipate spring’s coming with a kind of controlled fury. We want it so badly.
Many study the weather reports of Minneapolis, or places that escape the lake effect of cold Superior as it modulates our temperatures. They think: “Why can’t I be there?” or “Surely our weather can’t be far behind.”
Last week it crested to plus 80 degrees in the Twin Cities. Here we rejoiced because temperatures came in over 50, which was a great day. Students were in shorts and tee-shirts. Today, it is hovering around thirty degrees.
The fading of winter is the time of year woodsmen appreciate being out in the forest cutting trees, hiking, discovering new topography with the branches bare. The snow that once was deep and furrowed is gone, and a few patches of ice briefly line the path.
Yesterday I was with a neighbor where we were able to walk the high ridges and look down on deep river valleys cut into the hills. We could see them so clearly now. Soon a canopy of leaves will change the feeling for the country as a whole. Mosquitos and black flies have not yet descended, and so we are free to roam unimpeded. This also is part of this time of the year.
However, these days seem to offer little consolation as the grey skies drift across the path of the sun. Waiting is anticipation. There is an expectancy as if we can get ahead of the laws of nature which will run their course.
In a culture that is always rushing, that has fast-food as one of its icons and frenzied commutes home from work as almost a national expression, it is rare to have moments where we learn to wait.
Waiting is a lost art in many ways.
Fishing teaches us sometimes we have to stop and put away our thoughts of what must happen to accept the inconsequentialness of the day.
The fish-not-biting gives us a new experiential value that is not measured by numbers or amount. While each cast is waiting and suspense, results can be prolonged. They are not always according to our timetable.
This doesn’t mean we can’t take pleasure in the deep quiet of a northern lake. We can take joy in the fade of sunset with the hours being put to rest. We can take more time to share our company with others.
These are the things we will often remember down
through the years. These are the intangibles.
Other things remind us of this ancient rhythm we seem to have misplaced in an age where even voicemail is no longer fast enough. We text now expecting results within about 15 seconds or so.
Waiting for ideas slow in coming is one place we learn to have patience. Waiting for love, or to be loved, is another place worth paying attention to, but we cannot make this happen any more than we can expect robins to arrive on a particular day.
Waiting for important events to transpire when it is not their time is hard to do, but what choice do we have? Occasions such as these have their timing, their way of coming true.
We can influence them, we can sometimes force them, but in so many areas of life still, we must learn there is value in watchful waiting.
Spring will not come any sooner than it does. In the first days of April, we may have garden tools ready; we look more fondly to our boats, canoes might seem more eager to be off on new adventures.
So much to anticipate but the time has not yet arrived.
It will and is slowly making its march,
but only a little each day.
Waiting may be nature’s way of reminding us we have limits to our vital energies. While waiting is not always easy, we do what we can and let the pulse of time evolve as it should.
Sometimes, we have very little say in the matter.
John Bragstad is the author of Compass Season and Nature's Poetry of Life: Who's Watching Who. Both are available at Amazon.com.
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