Most of the hard-core winter has passed, and I must confess it's been fairly mild, as winters go. On a scale from 1 to 10 it was a 5 or 6. There was snow to shovel, but not as much as in years past, and the temperature dropped below minus 20 only twice, at night. During a winter that I would consider an 8 on the scale, there would be many days and nights that the thermometer would fall below -20, and the snow shoveling would seem nonstop. Late last fall, a foot of snow came before the ground was frozen, and much of that snow is still insulating the soil. The temperature rose to 36 degrees and sunny a few days ago, and I noticed a freshly dug mole run that came to the edge of the shoveled path. The mole decided he didn't want to dig through the frozen ground on the path, so he turned around and headed back under the snow. That's the earliest mole sign I've ever seen in the Kickapoo Valley.
A pair of Mourning doves sang their first Spring songs from a cedar tree on the sunny, warm hillside. It's a sound that is sure to stir the Spring fever in any one who hears it. "Ooah-ooo-oo-oo."
The female Gray squirrel is tucked away in a warm, dark nest inside a hollow tree trunk. She has just given birth to 3 or 4 little ones who need her constant nurturing for several weeks. The male will snuggle with them, giving Mama a break to find food now and then.
The crows have still been hanging around every day, enjoying the carcass of a road-killed doe. I can look out the window most any time and see them, and their calls are always in the background. I wondered how many times a young student in this old schoolhouse was distracted from their lessons by calling crows. I'm sure there was a lot of daydreaming over the 76 years that this one-room schoolhouse I live in had pupils. I've often wondered what they saw and heard from their desks. How often did they hear an owl, a coyote or a dove? Who saw the Red-tailed hawk soar past on the same spring breeze that came through the window? Did the teacher dare let them have a bird feeder, or would it have been too much of a distraction?
I've lived in this old one-room school, known as the Kanable school, for over ten years. I've always thought that I wasn't the first to observe the wildlife from these windows. Each spring when I hear the clamoring of the first migrating Canada geese, I think how it must have felt to all those children with Spring fever. I remembered what it felt like to me as a boy at a school desk who wanted so desperately just to be outside.
Spring fever must have been one of the biggest challenges for a country school teacher. Each March the kids would start squirming in their seats, and the teacher had to keep the attention of 20 or 30 restless young spirits. My home was a school from 1864 to 1940, and it's full of distant springtime memories that are not hard for me to imagine.
The modestly warm weather of this past week was nice enough to make the buds swell on the soft maple trees. I even noticed some new Pussy willows when I stopped at a freshwater spring to pick some zesty green watercress. This is always a good place to come for a Spring fever fix, and I snap a few twigs of Red-osher dogwood to put in a vase with a few sprigs of Pussy willows on the kitchen table. I can't help but wonder how many times in the past a fruit jar of Spring flowers sat on the teacher's desk, picked by a wide-eyed child while walking to school.
I'm sure there are many people who still remember those early Spring days, walking to school and trying not to let Spring fever make them late for the bell. For those children, learning began when they woke each day and continued on these walks to school. It was a time when we were all closer to the land and learned its lessons. Now those folks are elders. I wonder how many of them would say that things are better today.
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