perhaps Spring

Coburn's Bottom

Coburn’s Bottom

This Winter past was tenacious, a Narnian epic of cold and ice and snow that took heed of D. Thomas’s advice to “…not go gentle…” Even so, Spring arrived this past week, though with very little fanfare, very few signs to tell the difference between Wednesday’s Winter and Thursday’s Spring.

There are hummocks of snow on the leeward side of slopes, dirty brown and coarse with thaw and freeze. In what some locals call Coburn’s Bottom, there is still ice where we would expect to find clear vernal pools, and ice on the quarry as well. Near the Cut Off we would ordinarily see signs of spring wildflowers: at the very least, their tender shoots breaking ground. But not this year, not yet. No trees that I have seen are budding and even the bane of The Quarry Farm, Japanese honeysuckle, seems lifeless and brown.

But as obstinate as this Winter has proven itself to be, Spring is equally resolute. The signs are there if you look sharp and keep your ears open.

Skunks and raccoons and squirrels all shriek and whistle and bark their intentions, whether amorous or combative. Turkey vultures are making their way back, riding what thermals they can find and woodcocks, too, those strange little baseballs with wings and beaks, buzzing and whickering in the night. I have seen a killdeer or two and heard a red-winged blackbird. And there is duckweed on the quarry and Canada geese and mallards and wood ducks.Turkey vulture

So, rather than the raucous, slippery immediacy of Cumming’s in just-, we’re experiencing a different sort of Spring, something more along the lines of…

Spring Is Like a Perhaps Hand
By E.E. Cummings

Spring is like a perhaps hand
(which comes carefully
out of Nowhere)arranging
a window,into which people look(while
people stare
arranging and changing placing
carefully there a strange
thing and a known thing here)and

changing everything carefully

spring is like a perhaps
Hand in a window
(carefully to
and fro moving New and
Old things,while
people stare carefully
moving a perhaps
fraction of flower here placing
an inch of air there)and

without breaking anything.

Black raspberries and more

Back FieldIt’s been summer for a little over a week now. On the quarry, and elsewhere in the region, I suppose, that means raspberries. Here they’re mostly wild and black, though there are a few domestic red raspberry brambles planted in the big back field nearly two decades ago. Now the picking of raspberries, dependent on where it is that they’re being picked, can involve some little bit of a blood-letting. Here, along the wildest areas of The Quarry Farm, that is certainly the case.

RaspberriesThere are the brambles, of course, with their little thorns that snag cloth and skin. And then there are also the multiflora rose bushes, the thorns of which are a bit more than little and, consequently, do a bit more damage. Hawthorne and honey locust trees have thorns that, for the unwary, can prove literally life-threatening: honey locust thorns can grow to as long as five or six inches, come in clusters of ten or twelve at a time and are as sharp as needles. But botany is only one aspect of the blood bath. Mosquitos range in clouds of hundreds, along with midges, horseflies, deerflies and a host of other little biting beasts.

Damselfly            White Tail           Sedge with Moss           Ivy

Turkey VultureBut the berries themselves make the challenges worthwile, not to mention the sights that come along with the raspberries. Things like dragonflies and damselflies seesawing back and forth as they chase their meals, those same pesky insects that are intent on syphoning blood; little black toads that scurry from spot to spot; robberflies pursuing the same kinds of prey as the dragons and damsels, but in a much more “point A to point B” kind of way; turkey vultures soaring across skies of blue and grey, catching thermals and various drafts that send them scooting to the horizon; and ropes of grapevine and poison ivy.

The berries, though, are the goal, and this year’s crop is bountiful. Speaking of which, the telephone just rang and it seems there’s a pie cooling on a counter not too terribly far from here.

Time to go.

If you’re lucky, we’ll save you a piece.

Pie

Signs

I woke up this morning with this in my head:

[In Just-]
by e.e. cummings

in Just-
spring when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame balloonman

whistles far and wee

and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it’s
spring

when the world is puddle-wonderful

the queer
old balloonman whistles
far and wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing

from hop-scotch and jump-rope and

it’s
spring
and
the

goat-footed

balloonMan whistles
far
and
wee

I have a passion for poetry and cummings is one of my favorite artists. Inevitably, this particular piece of work comes to mind at some point in March. While not the first sign of Spring, it is a significant one for me. Still, you needn’t look to the page, or even delve into the convolutions of my sleep-addled mind to find the artistry of onrushing Spring.

Fox Squirrel Geese CabinOf late I’ve seen the return of turkey vultures and red-winged blackbirds and American robins in arguing masses so large that they’ve painted an acre of the big back field nearly white with their droppings. I’ve heard the buzz of a woodcock and the whickering of its wings as it flew toward the moon to prove its worth to a potential mate. Skunks and ‘coons and squirrels quarrel and fight in the woods and Canada geese and mallard ducks, in flocks and individual pairs, holler from the quarry.

Fairy Shrimp CircleTracksIn the lowest lying areas of The Quarry Farm, back in the woods and well below the quarry itself, on the ground referred to by locals as Coburn’s Bottom, vernal pools have already formed. These temporary ponds serve as habitat for a host of ephemeral animals: fairy shrimp and salamanders and mayfly nymphs and dragonflies. Within a few months, the pools will have evaporated, but their inhabitants remain in burrows underground or as eggs, tiny packets of a potential future.

MossAnd then there’s the greening of the woods, with mosses already climbing up the trees and laying soft blankets on the ground. It’s easy to forget that this whole area was once rainforest. It’s easy to forget, that is, until you take the time to walk into an Ohio woods and take an honest look around. And if it’s not a matter of forgetting – if, in fact, you didn’t know – then the realization of where you are is an epiphany and you’ll never look at a stand of trees in Northwest Ohio in quite the same way again.

(e.e. cumming’s [in Just-] was originally published in The Dial, Volume LXVIII, Number 5: May, 1920)

Raptor Rehabilitation and Release

One of two pre-fledgling turkey vultures surrendered to Black Swamp Raptor Rehab.

This past weekend, we were offered the opportunity to do something a little bit different. As part of our function at The Quarry Farm, we often serve as transporters for several area wildlife rehabilitation centers. Laura Zitzelberger, director of operations at Nature’s Nursery Center for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation Education, contacted us and asked if we’d serve as courier and chaperone for two pre-fledgling turkey vultures. The barn the two birds were nesting in was destroyed by the storm that tore this area apart in late June. Since then, the birds had been under the care of Diane Myers at Black Swamp Raptor Rehab. Nature’s Nursery had taken in a nestling turkey vulture and were excited at the chance to properly socialize their charge by introducing it to the two birds from Black Swamp.

Despite some rather unsavory habits, turkey vultures are social, intelligent animals (http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/turkey_vulture/id).

The nestling turkey vulture surrendered to Nature’s Nursery.

Sadly, these positive attributes create a challenge for rehabilitators. Imprinting becomes an even more serious concern as their social nature makes them more prone to identifying with their caregivers. This can prove disastrous for any animal and can even prevent their successful release back into the wild. In an effort to offset their natural inclination to bond with their caregivers, the three birds were brought together in the hope that they would bond with each other. Although they can’t be housed together because of a significant difference in age and size, the three birds will be kept adjacent to each other and share a common wall; two on one side, one on the other. It’s hoped that all three birds will benefit from this situation, improving their chances for a successful release.

And speaking of releases, not only did we transport two raptors up, but we also brought one back with us.

Early last autumn, we were called on to pick up a red-tailed hawk in nearby Miller City, Ohio. The bird had been on the ground for a couple of days and the homeowner in whose yard the hawk was sitting had called Nature’s Nursery. We’re not entirely sure what was wrong with the bird, but it was in sorry shape when we arrived. Emaciated and dehydrated, the hawk had no energy to defend itself and we simply walked up to it, wrapped it in a blanket, put it in a carrier and transported it north. After months of exceptional care, the bird’s appearance and attitude had changed drastically and the rehabbers at Nature’s Nursery asked if we’d return her to the county of her birth.

The red-tailed hawk perches shortly after release.

The hawk was slow to realize its situation and initially only flew far enough to perch in the nearest tree. But after a bit and the pestering of several camera-wielding humans, it finally took to wing and flew away and out of sight. I won’t say it was a picture-perfect release, but it certainly was a success.

We hope for the same results for the turkey vultures. When it happens, you’ll be the first to know.