Out for a walk on the jeep trail to my cabin, I look for the signs I know to look for this time of year: faint depressions of receding snow that ring tree trunks soaking up the radiant sun, snow oddly turning to crystals of ice, and the tips of tree and shrub branches seeming to fluoresce. Though knowing it is too early, I fancy their xylem pumping stored starches toward buds. Slough of trees now peppers the white expanse. I feel the marbling air, cool and warm, waft about my face, the only skin exposed, encased as I am in hooded parka, gloves, thick pants and felt-lined boots.
Upon return to the cabin, I cast a wary eye at the depleted wood pile. I wonder if enough is left for my stove to gobble up during chilly nights perhaps on through May. In the north border country of Minnesota, it is a long haul from March to June, when the northern hemisphere is exposed to nearly three more hours of sunlight. In the meantime, the wind can still have the slice of a paper cut, and snow can fall in heaps over what is melting. So I know enough not to get my hopes higher than the as-yet low sun.
But I’ve burned up the logs of my winter dreams in the hearth of my imagination, planning projects down to where in goes the last nail, screw or bead of glue. I’ve looked at color charts for wall paint until fifty shades of white look, well, white. And I’ve looked at invasive species pictures until I think I could find each species just by touch. I know that is not wise.
And the time is over for the winter activities I like outdoors. The snow in the woods is too soft to snowshoe over as I often did looking for animal tracks to stoke tales to tell around the evening fire. The snow on the lake is turning to ice and either too slippery or sharp to sled the dogs whose happily bouncing butts I watched pull me down the lake all winter. Their traces hang in the shed. The glister wax on my skis is packed with leaf debris. Oh, well.
Yup, I’m as stale as a cracker found in the fold of a car seat.
I’m anxious to hear the plop of a bucket on water instead of the grind of an auger through three feet of ice so I can siphon up water for a shower or dishes. I imagine the song of the white-throated sparrow and manage to whistle a raspy wisp of it through cracked lips. And of course, the calls of the loon. I try one; I sound like a chicken. And, too, the drum of the grouse. I tap out the rhythm with my hands on the table — Gene Krupa, maybe, but not the grouse with its pounding thump ascending to flutter. I try the howl of the wolf. No answer. A Werther’s soothes my raw throat and I slip into reverie.
In my mind’s eye up pop my wildflower friends, the wood anemone and the starflower, right where I have found them for many years; a tortoiseshell butterfly flits by, then a swallowtail; fireflies twinkle in the night; in a campfire a pine log spits out an ember. I hum, “a soft wind is blowing the stars around.”
I am in wild anticipation for summer to dazzle my senses. But I know imagination, though transporting, is no substitute for the feel of the real with its unfathomable expanse that cannot be contained in the screen of my imagination. Life will burst forth soon, I say to myself with corked exuberance, realizing I am now relearning the hard lesson of the wait.
Don Wendel, of White Bear Township in Ramsey County, is a master naturalist, St. Croix master watershed steward and retired English professor, writing from his cabin on the Gunflint Trail in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.