May has come and almost gone – already

MARQUETTE — “They’re OK the last days of May,” – Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser

With the chokecherry trees, spring beauties and wild strawberries in bloom, May has come and almost gone – already.

n a frenetic whirl, out of the gasping death throes of winter, she ushered home the robins to build their nests of grass and mud – under the eaves of old houses and barns or among the gnarled branches of aged trees.

In with the new, while the old structures crumble at an almost imperceptible rate back to earth. The old patriarch and matriarch trees – many of which have lived to see the greatest changes of this nation – have developed another ring.

Soon, if not already, those robin nests will themselves hold and support clutches of pretty, bright, greenish-blue eggs – a signature mark of spring in this northland paradise known and recalled fondly by everyone from small children to parents and grandparents.

Even when cracked and cast to the ground in half or quarter pieces, these beautiful and precious eggshells are sights as welcome as the gentle, springtime showers.

May brought those too, in some cases, in amounts unexpected to wash out gullies, turn the grasses green and unearth worms and other food, aiding it into the streams for trout and other fish waiting patiently with a winter’s hunger.

There were a couple of days this month when the mercury rose to unheard of territory for this time of the year. The warmth helped pop the buds on countless trees and bushes across this rugged countryside.

The rising temperatures also melted hearts suffering under the spell of a longer than desired winter, tempering steely stares and flat frowns into softened eyes and relieved smiles across otherwise worried faces.

Deer have appeared more frequently in places closer to me. One doe is carrying a fawn or two. May is preparing a shady, green-leafed place for her to rest, and later, give birth.

Shackles of ice clamped over the wrists of rivers, lakes and streams have melted away. May freed and floated the ice floes down to river mouths or, in the case of thousands of lakes, ponds and beaver dam backwaters, diminished ice where it sat still and silent, an opaque covering, an icy pudding skin.

With all the panoply of the springtime unfolding around me, I have maintained a somewhat stunned or dazed consciousness. ‘Tis the season.

There is so much to see, hear, smell, taste and touch – seemingly all at once – along with a grand reawakening of my spirit to get out and go and do that I fail to perceive a large portion of what is passing before me.

I do not mean to do this, but it appears to be unavoidable.

In a similar sense, other components of life go on without my necessarily noticing. A good example of this would be our contrivance of time – a method to remind ourselves of where we are in our walk, both blessing and curse.

In May, it seems as though we have only arrived at the grand spring formal and have yet to taste the punch or enjoy even one merry dance, and yet, it is already a quarter to June, nearly half past the year itself.

There have been other comings and goings as well. If I do not make special provisions to watch or listen for them, I know that I will miss these events entirely.

I am talking now about the social trappings of life – the news of the day, the procession of peoples, governments, political boundaries and all things popular from discovery or emergence toward prime and prosperity to eventual decline, obscurity and non-existence – at least in a physical sense.

The news on the television and the radio is almost always bad. It’s so hard for me to absorb much of it these days without imbuing myself within a deep, dark-blue depression.

I have better luck trying to understand what the crows and the blue jays are squawking to each other, beyond the fact that they constantly feel the need to announce me when I appear at the edge of a forest or the backyard.

I wonder if birds that commonly sit in single-file groups on utility lines pass news down the line from one to another, like cedar waxwings share berries?

If they do, are they like human beings in the sense that by the time something one of them says travels the length of the “telephone line” it has changed meaning and form almost completely?

My guess is there must be at least some of that.

“I heard the sparrows were at it again.”

“Well, it doesn’t surprise me.”

“You know what he’s like.”

“Her you could at least talk to.”

“Not me.”

“I’ve heard she’s been flying all over the place.”

“My sister said she ended up in a bird bath in west Ishpeming.”

“She took more than a couple of sips too.”

“Have you ever watched them eat?”

“I’ve heard them, but I can’t look.”

“It’s disgusting.”

“It’s nothing a goldfinch would do I can tell you that.”

I can recall at least a few occasions when I have come into town from a trip to the woods completely unaware of some newsy thing that had happened. I see those moments of ignorance now as time I was gratefully spared the knowledge, albeit temporarily.

I do try to keep up with the news of friends passing away. There are some I would never want to miss my opportunity to pay my respects to.

Once upon a time, I was a print journalist for at least a couple of decades.

Back then, I first heard that the obituary section of the newspaper was among the most popular with readers. I never understood that, especially with all the work that was involved in gathering and reporting news to help keep the public informed.

My dad used to read the obit section first during every day of his faithful readership of the “Upper Peninsula’s Largest Daily Newspaper.”

Now, all these years later, I understand more than I would like to.

I find myself doing the very same thing.

I recently had the pleasure of finding myself out on the trout stream with the Coaster King, who had spent much of his time over the winter convalescing.

His last appearance along the grassy banks of our favorite streams was last September, a week or so before the close of the season.

On that day, he hooked a beautiful brook trout, which he reeled in toward the shoreline and I netted it for him.

I know he spent more than a couple days over the wintertime looking at a picture he had taken of that fish, dreaming about his chance to get back out there to wet his line.

His return to form was marked favorably by a catch of trout for both of us.

It was a wonderful day just to be outside. The temperature was about 20 degrees warmer out there than it had been when we left home.

We both had more than a little rust to knock off the fenders since we’d hit the water last – a few errant casts, our backs tiring out sooner than we’d like, the usual early season complaints.

There were also biting gnats, mosquitoes and at least a few blackflies. I found a thornapple bush with my bare forearm and drew some blood.

We didn’t care anything about any of that.

I was delighted to see and hear chestnut-sided and American redstart warblers in the tag alders along the riverbanks, all those blooming cherry trees seemingly everywhere and everything getting greener by the second.

But the best thing I saw that day, all month, all year was the King casting his fishing line into the stream along the edge of the trees.

It was great magic to watch him doing something he first learned to love many years ago – something that is in his blood and has helped to shape him to be the person he has become.

All hail the triumphant return of the Coaster King.

And then came the last days of May.

— — —

Outdoors North is a weekly column produced by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources on a wide range of topics important to those who enjoy and appreciate Michigan’s world-class natural resources of the Upper Peninsula.


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