When spring comes to the Adirondacks without its traditional rains, the season opens differently. We are currently in the midst of a stretch of spring rainlessness, and its side effects are noticeable.
For example, there is a serious threat of fire. With all of last autumn's downed and dry leaves and twigs covering the ground, all it takes is a single spark from a campfire or cigarette to create a blaze. A big, terrible, acre-eating, tree-and-house-burning blaze. We all hope that early visitors or celebrating college graduates or eager-to-get-into-camping-season kids remember this, and act accordingly and with wisdom. It is not nerdy to be careful when having a campfire. You are combining the fun of the experience with responsibility for caring about our forests, which makes you a welcomed visitor.
For residents, of course, we should not be burning anything in our yards or garbage barrels. It is not safe, and there are folks who have survived such blazes to fill you in on how quickly life gets out of hand when fields, meadows and tree lots go up in flames. The weather folks will let us know when "normal" conditions return.
Trees with a view
What else is noticeable during this time of rainlessness? The trees are still holding on to their buds-very few leaves want to open wide during a drought. So while we can see the beautiful, colorful buds on our hardwoods, they are holding back, waiting for rain. Enjoy looking at themnotice their colors, see their hope before their summer stories are told. And when they leaf out, admire their green addition to our forest views.
Because of this emptiness in the trees, bird watching is amazingly easy this spring. As groups of finches and warblers come down the river to take a break in my apple trees, I can watch their behaviors and interactions clearly. There are times when these trees have up to 50 birds holding on to their limbs, right in front of my eyes. Yesterday, here's what I saw in just one half-hour stretch: purple finches, American goldfinches, blue jays, mourning doves, boat tailed grackles, red winged blackbirds, chickadees, red breasted nuthatches, white breasted nuthatches, hairy woodpeckers, white throated sparrows, chipping sparrows and juncos.
I sat quietly, not moving a muscle. I barely moved my eyes, trying to appear invisible to these wonderful birds, and my reward was that they came close, and showed me their feathers and feet and beaks, clearly visible within these trees with no leaves.
The squirrels and chipmunks move about in this same airy world, creating for me a zoo that comes right to me. Right now a pair of mergansers floats down the river below my window. A kingfisher chortles as he darts over the river's surface. Up above every day we see huge raptors soaring in circles in the sky. At night we hear coyotes. Down the road, neighbors have seen and heard a bobcat. At night huge owls sit in these bare trees and if I'm lucky, I get to gaze at their striking faces and wise eyes and feel lucky. Living here is definitely like getting to live in a big natural zoo, and it's all for free.
Black flies waiting
The lack of rain also limits the black fly invasion. We generally suffer a bit more out here on Keese Mills Road than friends in town because our river is mere feet from our house. Black flies love our river. And they love my skin when they're hungry. But right now, even though the air is full of their little black bodies, their activity is sluggish. They want rain. And once it comes, they will do their best to find me to bite. Some combinations of temperature, moisture, and geography make for easier springs, as far as the bloodsucking black flies go. Let's see what unfolds as our unnaturally dry spring progresses. I'll keep you posted.
I still miss rain. Everyone who knows me knows of my passion for the rains that pour down into my forest life. I even like rains when I'm travelling, and am not afraid to go out there and get wet, just for the joy of being rained upon. So while the flies are not biting and the leaves are holding back their great unfurling, I'll be enjoying yard work and hanging laundry out on the line.
I'll enjoy walks in the woods where I can still see those birds whose songs I know and love. And at the first drop of rain, I will be smiling outside with my face pointed toward the clouds, knowing full well what comes next, getting myself wet and happy in the meantime.
Happy Mother's Day
And finally, it is May, a month when Mother Nature shows us her magic, and all wild little critters build nests and make babies. Happy Mother's Day to all the mothers in our world. Let the spring flowers be your bouquets. And let the Adirondacks cradle your nurturing spirit every single day.
Randy Lewis lives in Paul Smiths, and is the author of "Actively Adirondack: Reflections of Mountain Life in the 21st Century," Adirondack Center for Writing's People's Choice Award for Best Book 2007.