It's mid-morning when I take a pail and head for the creek. I use the fresh spring water in two 2-gallon enamel pots on the old Kickapoo woodstove to help keep the house moist. When weather is cold, I keep the stove hotter, thus using more water. Through the month of January, 4-1/2 gallons of water boiled away each day.
On this day, the temperature was over 40 degrees, and the snow was melting fast. I found the little creek to be much larger. The water spilled its banks where it could. On a typical day, the creek moves along gently, and there are few places where I can't step across. Today the little creek is a raging torrent of rushing water. I am amazed at how clean it looks - a little dirtier than normal, but still fairly clear. I'm sure it's because it passes through undisturbed land from start to finish for its entire length (less than a mile) before joining with a larger stream at the bottom of the valley.
The water's force nearly jerked the pail out of my hand when I dipped it in the water, but I got what I needed and headed back to the house. Inside I could still hear water rushing through the creek, only 75 feet away. Mini-floods like this are common here in the Kickapoo Mountains, especially when there are hard rains. Gully washers are a common sight in small valleys throughout the Coulee region of southwest Wisconsin.
A new neighbor placed his dog house within 30 feet of a valley creek. Heavy rains in the night gathered on a downhill journey so fast that it washed away the dog house, as well as a picnic table. The dog house was never found; it no doubt went down the Kickapoo River.
The next day, I told my stunned neighbor that floods like that happen a lot. He seemed to doubt this, because he put his replacement dog house in the same place. Naturally, a week later another storm came, and another dog house was headed for the Gulf of Mexico.
When I saw my neighbor again, he told me he felt pretty silly but had learned his lesson. I told him not to take it to heart; at least the dog wasn't tied to the dog house.
These warm spring nights have been a long time in coming. I savor them by sitting out on the porch after dark, listening for new sounds. Over the rushing water in the creek, I hear the repeated soft call of a saw-whet owl.
The saw-whet owl is very small - he could fit in a coffee cup - but his calls are very persistent. From a large cedar tree above the house comes his love song: too-too-too-too-too. He sings it over and over, calling to his mate. Sure enough, she responds from the darkness up the valley. Such big hearts for such small owls, I thought. They keep their sweet courtship going all night; I even heard one of them singing several times during the day.
The past thee days have truly been a spring awakening, with sunshine and temperatures hovering around 60. For those who live in the north, 60 degrees feels like summer after the long, cold weather.
There's so much going on that it's hard to keep up with it. On Friday, a great blue heron was spotted near the river, and there were robins and bluebirds scattered about. Saturday's spring donation was the arrival of red-winged blackbirds. The males come early and stake out their territories. Their spring song is one that I've longed to hear since last summer: O-ka-leee. O-ka-leee.
Another early arrival was the little flycatcher who goes by the name of Phoebe. I always hear him before I see him; he is so busy calling his name that he doesn't care who hears him. It's spring, and he's in love.
The woodcock has the same affliction, as he belts out a rhythm from the alders. Strutting around on the ground beneath the pussy willows, he bows and calls to his passing mate.
Tom turkeys are also strutting their stuff. With their huge fanned tails behind them, they strut boldly around each other in a haze of pride and energy.
So much is going on so suddenly. It's like the earth is coming alive - or is she just waking up?
I saw a red-tailed hawk and a crow, each carrying a large stick as they flew over me today. The stick will be added to the nest they will raise a family in. The hawk carries his stick in his talons while the crow carries his in his beak.
This morning was hidden in a thick, heavy fog. The sun finally broke through around 9 a.m., and the spring songs of the cardinals, chickadees, titmice and house finches filled the warm morning air. At 10 a.m. came the spring call that I most long to hear: K-r-r-r-o-o-o, k-r-r-r-o-o-o! From the river bottom came the call of a single sandhill crane. He flew along north, up the river valley, calling out every few seconds. Then he set his 7-foot wings and glided down to the riverbank where he loudly announced his arrival.
The spring flood-gates have opened and there's no stopping it. Say good-bye to winter. There's no turning back; we're on our way to summer.
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