Signs of Spring?
by Mike Lushington

        I was out snowshoeing yesterday afternoon and happened to hear something that has come to symbolize the return of spring, however tentatively. Two ravens flew overhead and they were "singing" (if that could possibly be the right word) their love song together. To you or me, this vocalization sounds like little more than a set of croaks and squeals, but it obviously works for them - ravens pair for life and are particularly solicitous of one another. Earlier I had seen another pair, high in the sky, doing their aerial courtship dance and my own heart stirred at recognizing this annual response to the cold and snow of the season. (As I began to write this column, I realized that I had not turned the page on our Fifty-Two Weeks of Flight calendar to February, having been away on Saturday and Sunday. As soon as I did, I found myself staring at Jim Clifford's wonderful portrait of a raven - and admiring the look of intelligence in the bird's eye.) Now, I have written about my admiration for this bird on several occasions over the years, and do not intend to drift off in that direction today. Instead, I wanted simply to refer to spring-like behavior that I have already witnessed in this challenging winter.

        Driving down to Nova Scotia the other day, I noticed how the bark on Weeping willows has already begun to deepen its yellow colour. They may well be the earliest trees to show signs of spring. although, because we do not have many in this area, those signs often go unnoticed. However, it will not be long now before we will see the intensifying redness of our Red maples and roadside Red osier dogwoods. And, of course, we have already begun to notice and appreciate the returning of the light, particularly in the evening. (Last Thursday evening, I left home for my training session at my usual time - and noticed that there was still some light in the west - this for the first time since late November.) And thinking of light, I have begun to pay more attention to the stars in recent years and have been awed by the splendor of the nighttime skies this winter - perhaps because of the prominence of Jupiter (Not a star, I know) as it marches with Orion and The Twins (Gemini) across the night time sky. Orion is perhaps the most spectacular of the winter galaxies and, because it is so prominent, it is easy to keep track of its progress as winter unfolds. I have learned that by the time we begin to search for owls in late April, for example, Orion will be found in the western sky, about to set, not long after sunset. Right now it is in the middle of the sky, tending toward the west, when it first becomes visible. Back in October, it was right on the eastern horizon at sundown. And so, I have found yet another way to track the progress of winter, despite what the weather may be providing.

        So, once again, I am appreciating the cycles of the seasons, how everything emerges from what has just gone by, and how it blends into what is happening or about to happen. Before long, I will be thinking of getting out my humble maple sapping equipment and beginning to tap some trees. I fully expect to hear, any bright, slightly warmer day now, the sweet little love song of the chickadees (so much more a "song" than that well-intended and welcomed effort of my ravens) that frequent our feeders. and to welcome back the first of the gentle birds of spring.