This is not the June-like April of last year, with temperatures in the 70s and windows open at night to let in the sound of the spring peepers. This is the April we’re accustomed to here in New England – that blend of blustery winds and cloudless sunny skies, where winter and spring are still playing tug of war. Walking along the road, the wind is strong, tugging tendrils of my hair from its ponytail and numbing my fingers. My lab Wally has that extra bounce in his step that he gets when the wind is in his face. We duck into the woods along the trail that leads to the pond’s lee side where the sun is warmer and the wind is still.
The water in the middle of the pond is all about February as it ripples with the wind and dazzles with a million tiny reflections of the sun, giving it an air of busy-ness. But here at the edge, the water is calm and blue, and I walk slower to soak up the April part of this day. A hundred or so tree swallows have followed their instincts, and have gathered here too. Flying low along the water, a mere 12 ounces of iridescent blue wings and white breast feathers, they dip into the water, barely touching the surface, then flying up again with the grace and speed only a bird has.
We stop, my dog and I, barely hidden by the meager growth of early spring in the woods. Two steps more and I would be at the water’s edge, yet they don’t seem to be bothered by my presence. Keeping warm all night has depleted their reserves. Even Wally is quiet and in the hush I hear their beaks dip into the water; so many of them that if I close my eyes, it almost sounds like a tiny brook tumbling through rounded stones on its way to something bigger. One more step forward and I’ve entered their personal space. They rise up and settle on a red maple sapling, dressing it like the leaves it will soon have. Apparently neither I nor my dog are too much of a threat, because they cascade down again, a waterfall of birds, the sound of their sweet, single calls in the key of C.
Somewhere on the pond a great blue heron squawks and my dog starts off again toward the sound. Though I’m not quite ready to move away from the warmth of the sun and the natural perfection of this moment, he is. So I leave the tree swallows to their insect meal and head back into the bracing winds, reluctantly.
Back through the woods, there is still more of last year’s brown than this year’s green; lichens and mosses are the first to venture into spring. I shiver involuntarily while my dog noses around in the brush, distracted from his mission to check out the heron. He lifts his chin to the wind, leading me off the trail back toward the water and something only he can smell. He spends some time investigating the gnawed stump of a sapling, the work of a beaver, and then pulls me along an animal trail with more insistence.
As we approach the water again, we are both startled by a loud slap. He jumps back in surprise, then moves closer to the water’s edge where we see a beaver swimming away from shore. To my dog, this is another creature to show who is boss, and he dances at the water’s edge, barking excitedly. But to me it’s another perfectly natural moment on an early spring morning.
Tree Swallow photo by the author.
Great Blue Heron photo by Marie-Ann Daloia