Monday, March 10, 2008

Family Tradition gets an update

Every year for the holidays, my husband and I enjoy going to our local Farmers' Market to purchase 2 big beautiful wreaths that we hang outside from our front windows. I love looking at them so much that we leave them up for some time after the holidays. I always felt a bit of sadness at taking them down and in a bit of a quandry about just when to do it anyway. At some point I remember reading that a Scottish tradition involved making sure all holiday decorations were finally put away by March 1, supposedly to ensure that winter's evil spirits were really put to rest. I'm not sure if that is a true tradition, but the idea of it gave me a target date to take down my wreaths.

Then a couple of years ago I heard a robin singing away from a tree in my yard during the middle of February. I decided that I would listen each year for the early singing robins and take down my wreaths on the day I heard the first robin sing or on March 1, whichever came first. That tradition has worked well for the past several years with many robins singing during February. Alas, this year, March 1 came and went without my hearing a single robin sing. I was so discouraged (winter has been so long this year!) that I just didn't remind my husband to take the wreaths down on March 1. In fact, as of today, I have seen plenty of robins in my neighborhood (even with all the continuous snow and ice), but not one has been singing yet.

However, late last week, I heard something else singing (calling is more like it) overhead, and my heart just leaped with joy, knowing that spring really is coming. Although I could not see them, I heard a flock of sandhill cranes flying overhead, calling to each other with their bugling, even croaking, type of call. That ancient sound is music to my ears and heart! Clicking on the link will take you to the web site for the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo, Wisconsin (one of my favorite places) and then scrolling down will take you to a link where you can hear their many types of calls. You may see also hear their calling while viewing videos of the sandhill cranes on the Platte River in the Rowe Audubon Sanctuary near Kearney, Nebraska, another of my favorite places.

My husband took this photo of sandhill cranes flying in at sunset to the Platte River last March. Traveling to that area of the country to view (and hear!) the northward migration of hundreds of thousands of cranes has been on my "life list" of things to do forever, but especially since my last cancer diagnosis.

Hearing the cranes reminded me of my favorite line from the book The Sand County Alamanac by Aldo Leopold in which he begins the chapter for the month of March with this line:

"One swallow does not make a summer, but one skein of geese, cleaving the murk of a March thaw, is the spring. "

I have loved this line from Aldo Leopold's classic book for at least 30 years, as I look forward to spring during our long winters in the upper Midwest. However, since even in Michigan we now have geese that stay in our area all year long, this line and image seems to have lost its luster for me over the years. So, I will very happily trade geese for cranes as I look to the skies to both see and hear the cranes finally migrating back to our area in March and have that joyful event be my target date for taking down our wreaths next year.

My other favorite image and line from this book comes after Aldo Leopold describes how the geese land in the marsh with their accompanying raucous honking and splashing.

"It is at this moment of each year that I wish I were a muskrat, eye-deep in the marsh."

I have often wanted to be that muskrat. Being completely surrounded by the cranes at sunset in the blind at the Rowe Audubon Sanctuary near Kearney, NE gave me the closest experience I expect I will ever get to being that muskrat, surrounded by cranes instead of geese, an experience of a lifetime!

Ending with a grace from the native people of Mexico that speaks of spring, gardens, and friends.

And now, O friends,
hear the dream of a word:
Each spring gives us life,
the golden ear of corn refreshes us,
the tender ear of corn becomes a necklace for us.
We know that the hearts of our friends are true.

~~ Nahuatl prayer (16th century)

Yes, each spring gives us life. Who could ask for anything more? :-)

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

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