Although Spring is still three weeks away, according to official measurement, its signs are all around us. Look overhead about 9:30 p.m. The winter constellations, Orion the Hunter, Sirius, his faithful dog, Taurus the Bull and the scintillating Pleiades star cluster are all slipping into the western sky. Winter constellations are my favorites, clear, bright and easy to recognize. Orion’s hourglass outline is probably the easiest to see as he drifts across the darkness of space a little west of the zenith, club upraised and a lion skin over his arm. Trailed by brilliant Sirius, the Dog Star, directly above your head. Sirius is the brightest star in the northern hemisphere. The warmer weather makes constellation watching a pleasure now. But hurry. These wonders will be dipping below the horizon toward the end of next month and be gone for a season.
Almost due east and about half way up the sky, Leo the Lion, follows the extremely bright planet, Jupiter. With a good pair of binoculars, you’ll be able to see three or four moons of this Jovian wonder. They’ll look like bright pinpoint stars close to Jupiter.
Almost directly west, the ruddy red star-like Mars is slowly descending. Below Mars, the brightest object in the sky now is our evening “star”, the planet Venus. You’ve probably been seeing this bright sight every evening, so brilliant white it looks like the landing lights of an approaching plane.
In warm, sunlit spots, tender green grass has been appearing for a few weeks and unfortunately, the same thing’s happening in my yard, giving warning of the nonstop mowing requirement that will soon be upon us. Starved for salad greens, our permanent deer herd, often numbering 10 or more, has staked us out as their private territory. While they ordinarily dine in the morning and evening, we see them at all hours of the day now walking stiff-legged, stomping their feet in impatient territoriality when they see us standing on the porch. “After all,” they say. “This is our meadow. What do you think you’re doing in it? Shove off!”
Not only grass, but a profusion of white to pale lavender Spring Beauty’s cling close to the ground, producing their small 5-petaled flowers in profusion. These interesting spring wildflowers are tender and sweet delicacy for the deer, a plant that’s edible for humans too. Try some in a salad, flowers and all. Hiding in the soil, their tiny tubers are also delicious, although the deer don’t seem to know that.
Our earliest apple tree has been bursting buds for a week or more and is now covered with partially developed leaves. I’m sure emerging caterpillars will soon find it if we don’t take action.
Birds, of course, have known for some time that spring was just around the corner. Redbirds and mockingbirds – particularly the former – are singing their hearts out, declaring their intentions to potential partners and establishing the boundaries of their home territory. Bluebirds flit to and fro between my radio antennas, weather instruments and their nest boxes, often pursued by Carolina chickadees who would like to have a cozy nesting spot in one of the bluebird boxes. Pugnacious little black-capped critters, they often show their impatience by chirping at me from a distance while I refill the feeders. Goldfinches continue to brighten their plumage and devour our thistle seed.
In some places, clinging close to the ground, Henbit, an import from Europe that some call a weed, is producing tiny delicate, purple, hooded flowers sporting two pouting “jowls” beneath. Look directly into these quarter-inch flowers and you’ll see a small face looking back. Two tiny eyes and a nose combine with the jowls, giving this early riser the appearance of a fluff-faced puppy dog. Henbit is an early source of nectar and on sunny days honeybees flock to it.
Amphibians are one of the lead actors in the Proclamation of Spring Roadshow. Filling the warmer evenings near moist areas, the shrill “peep, peep, peep” of spring peepers is almost ear-splitting when they come together for a mass sing-along. More and more, their choral renditions are augmented by the ratcheting song of chorus frogs, sounding like they each are running their “fingers” along its teeth. (Hmmmm! Do you suppose that’s how they do it?)
In short, spring in the Piney Woods is a wonderful time, a time of awakening and freshening. A time for all things, including us to take on new life. It is a time of rejuvenating – meaning literally to regain lost youth. Perhaps we ought to substitute New Year’s Resolutions with Spring Jubilees, recognizing our potential once again and the many opportunities we have to right wrongs, take a fresh lease on life, shuck off past disappointments and frustrations and move forward with renewed enthusiasm, faith and hope. It is for me an energizing season and hopefully it is for you too.
Dr. Risk is a professor emeritus in the College of Forestry and Agriculture at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. Content © Paul H. Risk, Ph.D. All rights reserved, except where otherwise noted. Click firstname.lastname@example.org to send questions, comments, or request permission for use.