Spring Woods Journal

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Model: J-249
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Spring Woods

"As winter fades, I like to search for the first signs of spring, which ambles north at about thirteen miles a day. That's rather fast, so one must look for subtle clues. On sunlit hillsides, the treetops are dusted with the pink of forming buds, and beside the streams, weeping willow branches are yellowing into life. Cardinals begin their courtship songs, a clear descending whistle of "what cheer, what cheer, what cheer," as they stake out their territory and claim ideal nesting sites. Despite the windblasts, migratory ducks are returning to ponds with melting ice jams. It's mating season for many animals, and squabbles erupt among the tree limbs, scuffles rustle beneath the leaf cover.

Here's a sure sign; a purplish spear of skunk cabbage poking up through moss. We animals aren't the only warm-bodied critters. Skunk cabbage generates its own heat by converting taproot starches into fast-burning sugars. Then, like a hot poker, it warms the air around it by as much as 20 degrees. Named for it's skanky odor, it evolved to smell like rotting flesh and provide a feast for hungry flies, its main pollinator. Taking off my glove, I reach down, spread my fingers, enjoy the skunk cabbage's warmth. Soon spring will saunter into gardens and yards, but today it's the woodlands, rallying a dawn chorus and firing up the swamp cabbage.

No season is quite as reassuring as spring. The natural backdrop of our lives will continue in a predictable way, regardless of our own personal maelstroms. You can trust the thickening green of the woods, the patrol of the bees, the hummingbirds up to their cheeks in fuchsia blossoms, the blue nectar-rich violets with heart-shaped leaves, the early sunrise and dawn chorus. There's no going back. The earth has changed seasons once again, as it always does, despite our tendency to doubt in late winter. The once bare trees have unfurled a million leaves to become food factories, and the whole world seems to be suddenly dyed green."

Diane Ackerman, from her book Cultivating Delight

artwork by Marcia Eames-Sheavely © 2003