To walk along one of the hedgerows of red cedar trees that separate the rolling meadows of Spring Farm is to experience the dominant landscape of our recent agricultural past. Yet the fields here are maintained not for pasture, hay or other crops, as they were in the 19th century, but rather to provide habitat for grassland wildlife species. So it was gratifying, on my recent walk searching for signs of spring with 35 people, that one keen-eyed member of our group spotted a male Eastern bluebird, perched on an outstretched oak branch, in full view. Clearly this bird, who had been skulking near the edge of the woods till recently, had come out into the open to sun himself. Though bluebirds stay in the area all winter most years, we still greeted the appearance of this lone, powder-blue male as a convincing sign that spring had indeed arrived.
Making our way up the Crag trail, though, slogging through four inches of snow, it still felt as though winter had not quite released its grip on the land. The rosy round flower buds of red maples appeared poised to open, but none had bloomed so far. We heard only a few, distant birdcalls, and saw no mourning cloak butterflies, or skeins of migrating geese high overhead.
Yet we pressed on, and were soon rewarded by the sight of sap oozing from a pair of freshly drilled woodpecker holes in a young sugar maple. Encouraged, we made our way along Cedar Drive, stopping to look at a small overwintering fly someone had spotted on the snow’s sunlit surface. We admired this winter fly as if we were sailors on a long voyage, and this were a welcome sign of land. Many of us, who had swatted flies in summer without a moment’s hesitation, now handled this one tenderly, and laid it carefully on the snow off the trail, hoping it might survive. This kindred feeling towards even the lowliest creatures, kindled by our collective desire to witness again the renewal of life that spring accomplishes without our help, expressed itself even more strongly when a man near the head of the group found another small black insect on the snow. The long curving antennae and narrow, delicately net-veined wings folded over its back showed it to be one of the early stoneflies, newly emerged from a nearby brook, where it had lived as a water-breathing nymph (larva) for up to four years. And here it was, for us to examine closely with our magnifying lenses, as though it were a rare find, as it seemed, to us, that it was.