Spring, Sprang, Sprung

May 20 2009

(Written the second week of May in Milwaukee, Wisconsin)  

Have you ever noticed how seldom you hold still when you’re outside?  I mean really still, so you can listen?   

This soft, sunny morning I took a detour on my way to the mail box to get the newspaper.  The grass looked as green as the paper stuffed in a kid’s Easter basket.  Uncut since last fall, it had suddenly grown long and lush and glistened with dew, luring me to make an inspection circuit of our yard.   

The peonies are up two feet, the hollyhocks even more.  The hosta spikes and lilies of the valley are still furled, and the iris leaves are thick and thriving.  My various ground covers are mingling with each other and invading new territories. Already leafy red and green bushes, most of the roses seemed to have survived the ice and snow.    

Oh!  As I wrote that last sentence, a turkey just ambled, geek-like, across the rose bed and is now pecking at something under the window beyond to my desk!  I can tell he’s a young Tom by the tassel hanging from his neck, and by the blend of subtle browns of his back feathers.  

When I stood to ogle him better, he scurried toward the neighbor’s thicket, his head jerking forward and backward, his boat-shaped body balancing gracefully on those stick legs, reminding me of a woman in spike heels I saw at the airport. 

Back to my backyard inspection— 

As I walked through the brush beneath the half-naked trees, a movement caught my eye and I stopped.  About ten feet away, a squirrel sat on a fallen birch limb and scratched his ear with his back foot, just like a dog.  In an instant the squirrel stopped scratching and disappeared into the brush.   

For the first time in all my squirrel watching I noticed how the graceful arc of the squirrel’s tail matches the flowing leap of his body, over and over like waves as he covers the ground.  He stopped again and scratched his side violently with that tiny back foot, his tail jerking and swirling with each jab.   

What, I wondered, would make a squirrel itch?  An insect?  A thistle?  A sliver from a tree?   

I continued to stand still, and soon new sounds reached my ears.  A chickadee called from below me in the ravine that borders our property.  Another answered, and then completed his jerky flight to my bird feeder.   

I watched him and three other chickadees take turns looping between a nearby tree branch and the feeder.  I wondered which of them had been born in the tiny bird house I place in a tree each spring and reminded myself to retrieve it from the garage. 

Who taught the chickadees, I wondered, not to bully each other over the seeds?  Who taught them the timing and coordination of each flight, each takeoff and landing?   

I shifted my gaze in time to spy a bee the size of my thumbnail tasting forsythia blooms next to the house.  Just then a gust of wind lifted my hair.  I inhaled the dampness and wondered how far the air had traveled to my nose.  Had it hovered over Lake Michigan?  Why not from farther away, like the Pacific Ocean, the Panama Canal or the Nile?   

I inhaled again and realized I’d been standing still for a long time, enjoying the action around me, letting the world go by, and appreciating God’s wonders.       

P.S.  Let me know if you find out what makes a squirrel scratch.