Every year in the brown, sere days before the great greening in spring, I begin to have doubts. Will the flowers come again? Will the birds return? Will the trees leaf out? With all the despair and calamity rife in the world, the ancient fear that the end is near is as believable as ever.
Perhaps global warming will burn us up.
Oh no, it’s global cooling on the way. Watch out for glaciers.
No, no. The real fear is bombs and chemicals.
Not to worry. Disease outbreaks will get us before that.
Going into March I am gripped by a madness that has nothing to do with basketball. I am torn between despair over a political process descending into lunacy and an economic process that guarantees only an ever-growing poverty class. I am glad I do not know how to tie a rope into a noose.
Then I look out the window one morning and see the great miracle. Snowdrops are blooming by the house wall. I blink my eyes and shake my head. They are still there. In a few more days they are joined by winter aconites, merry yellow jewels against the melting snow. Slowly but surely all the spring wildflowers return— actually this unusually warm spring, they came fast and furiously— and I feel that great uprising of joy and hope once again. Nature does not renege on her promises.
The resilience and stability of nature is amazing and we often miss it because the news of the day focuses on the failures and threats, not on the successes. In all the earth-shaking changes that have shattered our sense of security over the past forty years or so, here on our farm, right here, the state of wild nature is remarkably little changed. There is less woodland but what remains is growing trees like it always has. And new patches of forest are on the march on “marginal land” where industrial farming is no longer profitable. In the last hundred years, roughly during my lifetime, we have lost only one bird that I am aware of: the little bobolink of the pastures fields. It left us when most of the pastures were plowed up. But amazingly, the meadowlark remains. And I have a strong hunch that if pasture farming continues to grow, the bobolink will return. It lives its merry life yet on the Amish farms not so far away in eastern Ohio, just waiting to move back in here.
The biggest change is in the creek. I don’t see as many black snakes, frogs, minnows and turtles as I used to. But they have taken up residence in the scores of farm ponds that have been built in recent years. The streambed springs that feed the creek miraculously hang on although uphill springs have long since dried up. A few fresh water mussels remain in the creek, another miracle.
We lost the bobolink, but gained the bald eagle. One year the tufted titmice disappeared from the feeder but were back the next year. For awhile, the great horned owl left us (I am told because of West Nile virus but I don’t know that for sure) but last spring, in those sad days of February, suddenly, at dusk came that old reassuring whoo whoo from the woods. Along the edge of one of our woodlots, the red-headed woodpeckers still flash from roadside electric pole into the woods and back again as I have watched them do all my life.
It is hard for many people to believe, but actually, in the forgotten and ignored rough and tumble patches of land between the cornfields, where tractors can’t reach, nature is gaining on human civilization. There are hundreds of deer now where in my childhood there were none. Coyotes, new here, are everywhere, eating, among other things, fawns and young groundhogs, keeping both those species from overrunning us. Raccoons continue to take their deadly toll of the bird population, but surprisingly there are more bluebirds now than ever. In the spring, the migrating birds come through as they always have, enduring perilous journeys thousands of miles long from the tropics to the arboreal forests. That alone is some kind of miracle.
It sounds corny, but if we will relax, withdraw a little from the clamor, and sink into the arms of nature with observant eyes, things are not as bad as they appear to be on the news. Keep reminding yourself. The snowdrops have come again.