Jim McGuire: Keeping the faith


By Jim McGuire

Contributing Columnist

Spring is just a month away!

Well, spring by official astronomical reckoning according to the almanacs and calendars. The actuality of the matter—spring as a manifest, embraceable season—is something else entirely.

We veteran Buckeyes, hardened and battle-scarred by time served living in the Miami Valley, have a more pragmatic view. Experience has taught us that any attempt to schedule and bind spring’s coming to a specific date is merely an act of foolish optimism.

Yes, spring is out there and heading our way. But when it will literally and unequivocally pull up to our doorstep is a guess, and not within our powers to foresee or control.

But there’s ample reason for hope—plenty of encouraging signs worth noting, starting with the light.

Dawns arrive ever earlier; twilights increasingly linger. We’ve gained nearly a full hour of daylight for the month— almost two hours since the year began.

This increased light is all part of that slow upward climb that began with at winter solstice. Burgeoning light which the ancients viewed as evidence of the sun’s mystical and wondrous return—though we prosaically-minded moderns scientifically explain as merely the result of earth’s favorable cyclical tilt back towards our life-allowing star.

Still, some things remain ageless. February’s obviously waxing days are fundamentally reassuring in a way that’s impossible to equal simply by checking dates on the calendar. One look outside and you know empirically that change is afoot.

Heart knowledge trumps head knowledge.

Others have also noticed this change.

Along the river, Canada geese are getting noisy and belligerent. Loud and raucous, they engage in lots of little territorial squabbles and protective male posturings, with much flapping and honking and chasing one another around.

It’s a sure sign of their procreative stirrings. Soon they’ll pair off and select a nest site—and then get down to the serious business of laying and incubating their clutch of eggs.

Backyard gray squirrels are just as biologically attuned to this eternal seasonal progression. Only days ago their treetop gamboling was nothing more than simple games reckless tag. Now, however, the overtones of the sport have changed, inspired by their own procreative urgency.

Frisky play has turned into mating chases. A few weeks hence, in the cozy darkness of a hollow sycamore limb, the young gray squirrels will be born—though they won’t venture out of their secure nests for another six to eight weeks.

Moonlit nights are apt to be filled with the mating calls of great horned owls. Shivery, booming hoots which speak not of dire secrets but of domesticity. Owls will often be on the nest before March.

Years ago, I spent a couple of winters in a rented farmhouse near the western edge of the county. The place was off the rural road, down a rutted lane—a long-neglected, dilapidated structure surrounded on all sides by vast expanses of weedy fields and fallow pastures.

Westerly winds had a half-mile uninterrupted shot to build their strength before reaching the ramshackle old building. Nightly, as I lay in the upstairs bedroom, they moaned around the eaves like restless spirits. Errant gusts rattled the ill-fitting single-pane windows, while errant gusts found their way into the house with sufficient force to blow out a candle.

I piled on every quilt and blanket I owned, topped that with an unzipped, heavy-duty sleeping bag—and still regularly half-froze between midnight and dawn.

In that cold February darkness, above the sounds of shuddering boards and keening winds, I sometimes heard the sharp, clear yips of a male red fox seeking an agreeable vixen. A “let’s get together” request, unlike their regular hunting bark. A natural, inherent conviction—predicated by the future— propelled that yipping dog fox to set out on his quest to seek a mate.

During these lengthening, last-of-winter days, I try and go afield for at least a short ramble as often as I can—both to help quell the restless incursion of cabin fever and also to keep an eye on the seasonal progression.

In the nearby woods where I usually walk, cheery robins were recently taking full advantage of last week’s milder weather which had finally erased the remaining patches of snow.

Every square foot of ground beneath a huge tangled thicket of mixed honeysuckle and blackberry briars seemed to be occupied by a sprightly robin. And every red-breasted bird was busily engaged in one or another of the usual robin drills. One might be listening, head cocked, sharp eyes scrutinizing the duff at their feet. Another scratching about like a barnyard chicken. Others leaned forward, quick-trotted a few yards, dodging vines and canes, to a different small bit of open ground, where they’d pause to listen and scratch before starting the routine all over again.

I couldn’t tell whether those robins were finding much of edible interest. But they seemed to be enjoying the hunt, perhaps gladdened by the feel of earth underfoot.

Winter might endure a while longer. We could still see another round of sleet and snow. But winter is definitely on the way out, having its final hurrah.

Change is a’comin’! Spring will soon be here. Just keep the faith and don’t lose heart!

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