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Change of Seasons

Signs of Spring

Desiree Cooper

Marc Sanchez

Jim Gates

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A sure sign of spring -- cherry blossoms in bloom.
(Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP/Getty Images)
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This weekend, the signs of spring are everywhere. If you live in Camden, S.C., you might be marking spring today by going to the Carolina Cup for the steeplechase horse races. Or if you live near Nashville, you might be going on a Tennessee Wildflowers hike today.

Here are some stories about the arrival of spring...

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Desiree Cooper: Griffin Woodworth is working on his dissertation at UCLA. For him, spring was evoked by a melody sung by a member of rock 'n' roll's royalty.

Lyrics from "Sometimes It Snows in April" by Prince.

It's springtime everybody. Time to wake up and smell the earth.

Trees will burst with bright green buds.

Baseball bats will swing, even if they are overseas. First crushes will percolate.

Tulips and daffodils will punch through the dirt.

And the snow will stop. Please, tell me it will stop.

Griffin Woodworth: One of the songs that I had always loved by Prince was this sort of little-known song from the soundtrack to "Under the Cherry Moon" called "Sometimes It Snows in April."

This song is this beautiful evocation of loss and longing for something that has passed -- for something you can't have again, but you're being constantly reminded of it. And the song is unbelievably sad...

Then I had the idea: Why don't I move to Minneapolis as a place to write this dissertation? Be suffused with the spirit of place -- you know, all of these historical places where Prince had been connected to....

So I drove back to Minneapolis, and discovered -- this was April when I moved back -- discovered that April is really winter. I realized that, yes, "Sometimes it Snows in April" is a song about loss and about longing but it's also just a literal weather report! When is winter going to end? When are we going to get some warm weather? And the answer to that is: Yeah, it could get warm at any time, but you know, sometimes it does snow in April.

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And as we celebrate the change of seasons, we're also getting ready for the cruelest month... That would be April -- National Poetry Month.

Shakespeare, Dickinson and Eliot all wrote poems dedicated to springtime. The Japanese poet Matsuo Basho wrote this haiku:

First day of spring.
I keep thinking about
the end of autumn.

Poet Gerrit Lansing now adds his ode to spring -- it's called "Hands That Melt Like Snow":

HANDS THAT MELT LIKE SNOW

Do we hope much is that sentencing a river there in spring? Or isn't it the
isn't it that answering is green?

Confusion is a gramercy where my sister clarity is singing. Let me ring that
She says let me ring in the grass. It is us, it is ours, over us like
Watered silk or rock.

Silk and like is hoping through. Do we hope a grammarye equal to our hut?
Or isn't well the lapidaire the well that answering is goodly bad?

So perfusion makes a speed that in our constancy stands up. Dressed in
Green, dressed in blue, figures lap their circles in the dark. Goodly
Bad or happily, a sentiment.

Ending now is licking like. Spring calls for swinging in the cool. A tilth,
a milkmaid secretly. Her eyes, his eyes, the magnet so disposes, up
and down. Holding fans at midnight.

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Bill Radke:As April snow still drifts in, some people are searching for that classic sign of spring, the robin. Rachel Knudson grew up in Hartland, Minn., pining for the robin. About six years ago, she was working as a hospice worker -- and her search for the first robin of spring took on a new meaning:

Rachel Knudson: It was about this time of year, and I normally provided care for him in his bedroom. This particular day, he wished for me to wash his hair, and walking out to the kitchen and standing at the sink exhausted him. So we had to sit and rest.

While we were sitting there and he was catching his breath, we were chatting and discussing the time of year. He asked me if I had seen any robins of spring yet. I had mentioned that I'd been looking, but I hadn't seen any robins yet. And we continued to chat, sitting at the kitchen table, and he was looking out the kitchen window

Suddenly his face lit up, and he exclaimed, "I saw a robin! I saw one!"

I thought for a moment that somehow his mind had made him see something that he really desired to see, and we sat there for a little bit longer. Pretty soon I saw this little robin head pop up behind the neighbor's fence.

And then I realized he truly had seen the first robin of spring -- and I felt his joy. I suddenly was struck with the realization that that was the last first robin of spring that he'd ever see. And I started thinking about all the lasts firsts that he'd been conscious of throughout his terminal illness, and also the last lasts: the last Christmas with his family, the last time he would hold his grandchildren...

So now, when I see the first robin of spring -- or any robin actually -- I always think of him and always remember to really, truly cherish the moments we have with our family and friends.

Scott Weidensaul: If you're really hungry for spring, if you're really desperate for some sign that winter is not going to last forever, that's when I find myself heading out to a weedy meadow, along the edge of a low bottomland swampy forest, because that's where I know the woodcock are going to be.

My name is Scott Weidensaul, and I'm a natural history writer -- and I am not making any of this up.

We're talking about a shore bird that lives in the woods, that's about as big as a man's fist, the colors and markings of dead leaves. It has these two big bug eyes that are sitting kind of toward the back of the head, so that it can actually see better behind it than it can in front of it.

But the most remarkable thing about the woodcock is that this silly, dumpy, pudgy little bird, in the springtime perform this extraordinary, beautiful, whimsical -- and I think for me at least -- very moving sky dance.

Just after sunset, in fact just about exactly 12 minutes after sunset, when the light hits a very particular level of foot candles, the male woodcock begin to give this weirdly mechanical, frog-like sound, which is usually described as a "peent," which is p-e-e-n-t.

They peent for a while, then they launch themselves into the air. And then when it reaches the apogee of it's flight, it will suddenly stop flying. It's almost as if the bird's been shot. It begins to tumble to the ground, falling from side to side like a falling leaf, and giving this wonderful musical gurgle. And just before it pancakes on the ground, it catches itself, comes to a landing, and begins to peent again.

And you've got sometimes dozens of male woodcock all doing this, scattered around the singing grounds. It's basically a singles bar for woodcock.

I think one of the things about spring is the ephemeral aspect of it. The woodcock display, for example, only goes on for about a month. If you miss it, you've missed it. It's not going to happen in July. It's not going to happen in August. So the changing seasons forces you to pay attention, to be a closer observer, to appreciate what you have in front of you at that moment, because it's not going to be there in a very short while.

More stories from our Change of Seasons series

Comments

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  • By Ladonna Weeks

    From Defiance, MO, 03/29/2008

    My favorite sign of spring is the return of the Ruby Throated Hummingbirds. They usually arrive on April 20, but people on the Hummingbird Hobnob group are reporting them 2-3 weeks early so my feeder went up this afternoon. I can hardly wait!

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