Living in Minneapolis where winter temperatures regularly spend a week or two about sixty degrees below freezing, I found that the humans awakening to spring almost rivaled the beautiful awakening of nature. On the first warm day of my one Minnesota spring, I went roller skating around lovely Lake of the Isles. It seemed like everyone in town was out with big smiles and windblown hair, saying “hello” to each other, friend and stranger alike! The enthusiasm and radiant joy seemed directly proportionate to the temperature extremes of the winter months. I loved it! This is an article about my favorite spring memories, to honor and enjoy with you the beauty of reawakening nature, both human and earthly.
During the month of May, the Nichols Arboretum in Ann Arbor is nothing but beautiful! I so love the bright new leaves and the river flowing through, high and fast from spring rains. A very special treat is the Peony Garden and surrounding area. Before the peonies are fully in bloom, the azalea bushes that line the front perimeter of the garden are a riot of brilliant color and fragrance, so beautiful. If you follow the small path that leads off of that perimeter, you come to a hillside covered with phlox, which are a wildflower. In some years they grow with such exuberance, it feels like the world must be celebrating a wedding, it can hardly hold so much joy!
Some white and some violet with green leaves, the stem of phlox is covered with flowers and stands about a foot or more in height. They brighten up the understory of the large trees and just glow as the morning light shines through their petals! Further down you come to a planted area to bring a taste of the Adirondack Mountains to Michigan. Many more azaleas and beautiful large trees line this valley path, where the ridge above makes you feel as though you are in the mountains out east. By the middle of May the peonies come into full bloom and you have an acre of what I call “grandma flowers”, big, floppy, bright balls of beauty and joy in many colors. At the far corner of the garden is a massive tree — of unknown classification to me — which puts out huge cones of elegant drooping white blossoms. When you look up you see its beauty and many children’s legs hanging down from the wide arms of its branches. There is nothing like a picnic breakfast amidst the peonies and the fresh spring air; and the people watching is equally entertaining!
I learned to love birding one May when I was pregnant and sought a quiet personal retreat in Kingsville, Ontario. It happened to be the first weekend of peak birding season, and the couple who owned the bed and breakfast also owned the Pelee Wings birding shop. I succumbed to instructions to buy binoculars, a Peterson’s guide and to go to Point Pelee National Park, which I discovered is one of the major migration spots in North America! Here the birds come to land after flying across Lake Erie, and gratefully rest and feed in the lush woods beyond the beach. That weekend I was embraced by friendly, enthusiastic birders who directed my attention to beautiful flying friends I would have completely missed before I was awakened to birding.
The woods were filled with songs and feathers! At ”the point” I discovered a triangle of sandy beach narrowing down to a twisty end, massaged by beautiful Lake Erie. The currents there weave a macramé of water and light, crisscrossing wet sand. As I stood there a flock, of what I learned from my Peterson’s Guide were mergansers – diving/fish catching ducks – circled above and around me on hundreds of noisy wings. Then they landed at my feet, each with a powerful, splashy flourish and began flirting in the way of ducks, chasing each other in short fast bursts, diving and emerging with their feathers shining, full of life, power and joy. I felt like I was in a National Geographic Special! To complete my amazing adventures, that evening just at dusk, I stumbled upon a butterfly tree! Uncountable numbers of migrating monarch butterflies were settling down for the night; flying to the tree and landing, only to become to the unknowing eye, just another fluttering leaf.
I have had the privilege of enjoying mergansers again at Traverse Bay, also in May! The female ducks, who have very funky and cute head feathers that stick out like they are moussed, take turns minding the ducklings, who are fluffy, fast and absolutely darling! We named their early training process “the merganser diving school”. When the momma merganser calls her brood they rush across the top of the water like peculiar water bugs, and swim right up onto her back. She may have as many as nine or ten of them up there, all trying to stay on! She then swims for a bit, looking for minnows in the shallow water by shore. When she finds some she dives and the tiny ducklings first bob right back to the surface, but with practice they learn to dive with her and catch their meal. So clever and cute!
Don’t you love spring! What an amazing planet ours is. Thank you Mother Earth!