Finding Beauty in April

Finding Beauty in April

“All of nature is a going concern. The business of spring is a prospering. I stand for a long time beside the swamp stream in a fairyland setting of low-lying mist glowing and tinted with the pink of the sunrise. Here is beauty, here is calm.” — Edwin Way Teale, “Circle of The Seasons,” April 21, Reflections in a Stream

April is a month of expectations, the first full month of spring when the earth gives birth to a myriad of plants and creatures. Beauty is ever in the eye of the beholder – one person’s weed is another’s flower.

At this writing the soil of my garden and fields still has a cool touch, but soon it will be warm enough to fully reveal its secrets. April brings the yellow-gold disks of dandelion blooms dotting lawns and fields. In April and early May, dandelions are some of the first blooms supplying important nectar and pollen for hungry bees and butterflies. While seen as a weed or problematic by some who favor a certain kind of lawn, dandelions are actually a natural wonder, not only for the pollinators but for the health of your lawn. Let them thrive and you will benefit your landscape in myriad ways.

While the first flowers of spring are dotting our landscapes, the early harvest of the garden is also on its way. The smart vegetable gardener who planted their peas in March can proudly stand before neat rows of light green and exclaim to anyone who will listen “my peas are up” in April. The clover-shaped small petals twist upward on strong vines that need support on wooden stakes or wire-mesh. Many vegetables require the freshly-tilled dark soil to warm further, allowing the pea sprouts to stand out — a beautiful sight and hopeful promise for the growing season ahead.

Robins seem to occupy our part of southern New England year-round, but on warm, moist April days I’ll watch for their tug of war with emerging earthworms. The terrestrial tunneller is a favorite prey for the hungry bird — especially if there are nestlings to feed. The persistent robin with ear and eye cocked to the grass will wait intently, then make a few hops in one direction, stop to look and listen and then with quick strike of its bill pull a fresh meal from the soil.

April is the month of both departing birds and returning birds. As March slipped into April, I have seen fewer of the dark eyed juncos. Southern New England is on the edge of their breeding grounds, which are typically in more northern states and Canada. By April the swallows return to cruise above ponds and fields, shuttling back and forth, twisting, turning rising and descending to feed on flying insects.

On a warm evening in late March, I visited Blue Flag Meadow in Hampton for my annual trip to witness the fascinating and a bit comical evening courtship call and aerial flight display of the male woodcock. Silent and shy most of the year, in early spring they return from winter grounds in the Gulf Coast states to mate and raise young.

Before alighting into the looming dusk to perform its dizzying flight, the male makes a peenting, nasal buzzlike call to announce his presence. It is one of my favorite sounds of spring, and while one would be pressed to call it a beautiful sound, it is still music to my ears. By early April, most of the woodcock have continued their journey north, but hopefully some will stay at Blue Flag Meadow for the nesting season.

By mid-April, all the days have music in them, and the time of the singing birds begins. In my neighborhood the robin sings first, sometimes well before sunrise, followed by the cardinal, tufted titmouse, chickadee, nuthatch and mourning dove. Already the mourning dove is nesting in the pine grove at the edge of our backyard.

Melodious notes are not the only beautiful music we hear in April. The quick sharp staccato drumming of resident woodpeckers on a hollow branch or trunk plays counterpoint to the music of songbirds. The loud quick succession of the tapping beats is the envy of any drummer.

As the weather starts to warm in late March and April, painted turtles, groggy from the cold, emerge to warm themselves on a rock or log. Also called “sun” turtles, their appearance is yet another sign of spring. If I get a chance, I like holding them in my hand for a closer look at the features I find so beautiful.

The painted turtle’s red-orange markings along the rim of the top shell (carapace), bright yellow striping on its legs and neck, and pale-yellow bottom shell (plastron) are striking. Just behind its eyes are two yellow spots that disappear when the turtle retreats inside its protective shell. With tail and legs tucked in tight, the only visible parts of the head are two nostrils at the tip of the nose and glinting eyes. I never tire of looking into the intent stare of a reptile that lived among the dinosaurs millions of years ago. I wonder if the turtles of the dinosaur age had colors as beautiful as the painted turtle.

April is here and there is so much to explore in The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor. I hope you’ll join me in finding beauty in each and every day.

Bill Reid is the Chief Ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor. He has lived in and explored the region for over 40 years and can be reached at bill@tlgv.org

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