Spring is already here if we take cues from Mother Nature

Colleen Kottke
Wisconsin State Farmer
Although much of the playground is submerged in water from melting snow, it doesn't stop Colleen Kottke's son from enjoying their annual Escape Day on March 1.

As daylight stays around longer, I am heartened that spring is on its way. While the temperatures may hover below freezing as February nears its end, the warming rays of sunshine assure me that robins will be winging their way north.

When my boys were young, they began growing restless after being cooped up during the long days of winter. Even trips to the barn at night failed to still that longing for playing outdoors, unfettered by layers of winter clothes.

I'm solar powered by nature and think of the vernal equinox as sort of a holiday. So I understood the discontent of my little band as I wrote "Escape Day!" on March 1 on the calendar hanging in the kitchen. Come hail or warm southern winds, the first day of March marked the official start of spring in our household.

To celebrate our freedom from the clutches of winter, we loaded the kids up in the car - dressed according to the fickle weather, of course, and headed to Lakeside Park, a wonderful park at the foot of Lake Winnebago.

Donning winter boots, the kids bolted from the car and headed towards the playground equipment. Swinging on swings and pushing the merry-go-round as fast as they could was joyous in itself, but having their dad take an afternoon off from the farm made the occasion even more special.

After awhile they piled back into the car and we cruised through the park, searching for early robins. The first to spot the red-breasted bird earned bragging rights for the day. A quick stop at the nearby A&W restaurant for an ice cream cone was another treat.

Lake Winnebago, in the background, is still covered with snow, but that doesn't stop Colleen Kottke's husband and children from enjoying their 'pre-spring' outing at Lakeside Park.

A drive taking the long way back home was another ploy to extend the day just a few minutes longer. Back home the kids stripped off their outerwear, grabbed a pillow and a blanket, and fell asleep on top of the large furnace grate on the living room floor of our old farmhouse. Although we declared March 1 as the official start of spring, the heating season would go on for another month.

Our afternoon excursion cost very little but paid back a rich return to our winter weary souls. As Wisconsinites, even the kids knew that the month of March fought hard to hold onto winter, and a snowstorm or two (maybe three) was bound to happen. But as the sunlight grew stronger and the winds warmer, they innately knew that the snow wouldn't last long.

As I've experienced more winters, I've begun to see signs of spring that I had missed before. Just because it was still cold outside and snow remained on the ground, Mother Nature was forging ahead right on schedule. The buds on my lilac had started to swell, the sun crested the eastern horizon earlier each morning, the skunk cabbages on the Ledge began to peek out of the spring beds, and some of my female squirrels were absent from the feeders - perhaps already giving birth to their first dray of kits.

Soon the pair of sandhill cranes will begin calling in the fields up by the marsh and skeins of Canada geese will fill the sky as they head north to their breeding ground. And like many gardeners, I will make the rounds, searching under plant debris for any signs of perennials nosing their way up out of the once frozen soil. Witnessing the annual miracle of spring as it unfolds rejuvenates my soul.

Today as I look out of the south window of my now quiet house, I watch as the squirrels raid the feeders, scurrying off with the coveted peanuts, only to bury them under the snow and leaf litter for future meals. The snow birds are joined by the gold finches whose plumage will soon return to its vibrant gold color. And as the days warm and the snow retreats, the crowds at the feeders will thin out as they travel further afield to find nourishment once buried under the snow.

An old vice principal used to quote snippets of Percy Byshhe Shelley's Ode to the West Wind to us lethargic students this time of year ... “Oh wind, if Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?” As an adult I truly understand...spring is already here whether we see it or not.

Colleen Kottke

Colleen Kottke is the editor of the Wisconsin State Farmer