Marcia Roepke
Trail Time

Trail Time – First Spring

It is April and it’s 75 degrees on the Gunflint Trail. You can literally watch the snow melt. We must be careful, though, not to be fooled into thinking that this is Real Spring. In honor of hobbits everywhere, I’m calling it First Spring.

There are dark spots on the snow-covered lakes; the melting areas reflect the sky with sea-glass colors of pale blue and green. I’ve seen my first butterfly, the Compton’s Tortoiseshell, fluttering about. The pussywillows are emerging, their silky fur just starting to peep out. The chickadees are busy finding seeds newly uncovered by the receding snow and burbling their little burble, their two-note spring song and their trademark “Chick-a-dee-dee-dee.” The woods are ringing with a Nuthatch chorus of “yank yank yank.” A single Goldfinch visited, asking “dzeeee? dzeeee?” and stayed for a while in a birch tree, silhouetted against a cloudless blue sky. Some Cedar Waxwings hid in the Balsam Firs, conducting their social hour in a fast-paced musical conversation. A Rose-breasted grosbeak sat on a branch and looked in my window, impossibly pink and red in its breeding plumage. With the abundance of of life in the woods, a balance was required to remind me that death is part of spring as well.

A red fox had died close by sometime this winter. We found it a while ago, but now the snow was melting (as was the fox), and I wondered what to do with the carcass. Conditions would soon make it reachable and I wanted to move it well beyond my dog’s range, so I carried it to a place deep in the woods, away from houses and dogs and threw it as far as I could. As I tossed it, I stepped off the path and sunk in the snow up to my hip. I toppled over, landing face up but with my head downhill and my left hand trapped under the snow. I struggled to slide my hand out. No dice. I could not budge it out of the icy, water-laden snow, which at this point felt like concrete. It was the lowest part of my body and I could get no purchase trying to stand up with one hand trapped. Thank God Lars was there to the rescue! He grabbed my right hand and held me up to relieve the weight on the trapped hand. I had to leave my glove behind, and it took me a while but I finally was able to squeeze my hand out and stand up. Add humility to life and death as part of Spring.

It is so good to live outside again. When the warm weather started, I hated inside. My determination to be outside felt as strong as a compulsion but really more like an instinct. I must go outside. I put screens in windows and turned on overhead fans to air out our little winter-tired cabin. I’m writing this sitting on the porch and it’s warm even in the shade. I am nearly giddy about the fact that I have no socks on. The giddiness is ephemeral, I know. Rain and snow are in the short-term weather forecast, but this sure was fun while it lasted. And warmth and sun will come again.

Here’s a quote that expresses well my spring yearning and giddiness. It’s from the book Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout:

“… it turned out she could not stay away from the woods on days when the sun was bright. The physical world with its dappled light was her earliest friend, and it waited with its open-armed beauty to accept her sense of excitement that nothing else could bring.”

This is Marcia Roepke on the Gunflint Trail