Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: migratory birds

All of a sudden it’s spring!

In books the scenario goes like this: the trapper / prospector / homesteader (choose one) is shut up in his isolated cabin in the north country. The snow gets deeper and deeper, the temperature gets colder and colder, the wood pile gets smaller and smaller, his winter supply of food is almost gone. The days are getting longer, but the snowstorms are more frequent, there is no hope of getting out for more supplies. Hope is almost gone when he wakes up one morning to a different sound in the treetops. There is a gentle breeze blowing from the southwest, the clouds are gone and the sun is shining brightly. The snow begins to melt and in a few days there is open ground, open water, and he is a free man once again.

That’s how it reads in story books. Real life is not like that — the sun shines one day with a promise of spring, followed by another blizzard the next day, or at least by bitterly cold temperatures and sharp winds that lash your face with ice crystals and make it difficult to find your way. Warm days alternate with cold days until the warm finally prevails and we have spring.

Except that from time to time it does happen exactly as the story books describe. We had bitterly cold temperatures last week, up to and including Thursday. Friday the sun shone, the wind came from the southwest, the temperature went above zero and the snow began to melt. This is the fourth day and bare  patches are showing up on our lawn. If this continues, as it is forecast to do, there won’t be much snow left after the coming weekend.

(Here’s a primer on the Celsius scale for those still addicted to Fahrenheit: 0° Celsius is the freezing point; -18° Celsius equals 0° Fahrenheit; each degree on the Celsius scale equals 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit. Thus today’s temperature of 5° would be 41° F and Saturdays forecast high of 15° would be 59° F.)

Whether it comes slowly or quickly, spring on the Canadian prairies is a dramatic event. The increased hours of sunshine have already boosted our energy level. Even our cats have spring fever. Soon the robins will be here, followed by Canada Geese, meadowlarks and all the birds of summer. The first native flower to bloom will be the prairie crocus, usually appearing before the snow is completely gone.

A friend asked me recently, “Why are we living here?” That is not so easy to answer during winter when the days are short, the nights long and a snowstorm just made our driveway impassible again. But spring reminds us of the life and beauty that teems all around us when winter is past, and of those long, long, glorious days of summer.

While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease (Genesis 8:22).

Land of Living Skies

Our Saskatchewan license plates proclaim that this is the “Land of Living Skies,”  I suppose that refers to the gorgeous sunsets that we see pretty much every evening.  In spring and fall it could also describe the flocks of migratory birds that pass over our heads.

Especially in fall.  In spring the birds are in a hurry to get to their summer breeding grounds in the arctic, but in fall many of them linger for a month or two, gleaning in the harvested fields.

In summer, every pond, slough and lake is filled with ducks of some kind, along with a variety of smaller shore birds.  A few Canada Geese and Sandhill Cranes spend the summer here, but most go farther north and are only seen, and heard, in spring and fall.  Tundra Swans pause here only briefly in spring and fall.

By now most of the birds of summer have left for a warmer climate, Canada Geese and Sandhill Cranes were around in abundance for awhile but by now they too have moved on.

The Snow Geese are still here.  We can hear them on a nearby pond pretty well any time of the day or night.  Their voice is a little higher pitched than Canada Geese and they gather in much larger flocks.  There are two colour morphs among them, white and blue, with the white form being predominant.  As we drive down the roads we will see a field or a pond that is turned white by huge flocks of Snow Geese.  As we get closer, we see that there is some colour mottling because of the darker geese mingled with the white ones.

This morning at 7:30, I was sitting at my computer when I heard a sound above the humming of the furnace (yes, we are getting into that time of year here in Saskatchewan).  I rushed outside to look and there was a huge cloud of Snow Geese flying low overhead, all talking at once.  I believe there must have been 2,000 of them.  Probably heading for a field somewhere for breakfast.

Over half of these birds will have been born in spring and have never made this journey before.  But they know where they are going and next spring they will make the journey back along the same flyway, just as Snow Geese have done for as long as there have been Snow Geese.

 

Why I am a flatlander

Some folks drive through the prairies on the Trans-Canada Highway and say there is nothing to see.  I, on the other hand, have driven for hours and days through the forests and rocks of northern Ontario, or Michigan Wisconsin and Minnesota, and found it depressing.  Then the trees disappear behind me, the vista of open prairie as far as the eye can see opens up before me, and I am HOME!

I have lived half my life away from Saskatchewan, family ties drew me back, but it is something more than family ties that holds me here.  There are things that bored travellers through the flatlands may never see or experience.

The shade of the massive spreading Manitoba maple in the corner of my mother’s garden sixty-five years ago.

The delicate fragrance and beauty of the Sweet Williams growing close to that tree.

The golden eagle up above my head, making no discernable movement of his wings, yet hovering in the same spot for minutes on end.

The tiny hummingbird, his wings a-buzzing, hovering just inches from my nose.

The taste of saskatoons picked fresh from the bushes of a river valley.

The wide, scalloped river valleys, created by tumultuous water flows ages ago, now with a little trickle of a stream flowing along a narrow channel.

A herd of pronghorn antelope, possibly the only animal on earth that could outrun a cheetah.

A whitetail deer appearing to float gracefully across a pasture, then effortlessly floating over a fence.

The huge buffalo rubbing stone in a hollow on a hillside, worn smooth by millions of buffalo.

The first crocus of spring appearing not far from that stone.

The brilliant red of a scarlet mallow growing close to the ground in the most improbable places.

Bright orange prairie lilies blooming in the ditches.

The spectacular flowers of prickly pear cactuses.

The song of the meadowlark, audible above the road noise and air conditioning while driving with the windows closed.

The song of the yellow warbler.

A field turned white in fall by snow geese pausing in their migration.

The loud conversations of sandhill cranes from a nearby pond.

Migrating flocks of Canada geese, snow geese, whistling swans, sandhill cranes, whooping cranes and a zillion kinds of ducks.

The serenade of brown thrashers in the morning, imitating the songs of robins and other birds.

Young male flickers going rat-a-tat-tat on metal chimneys and eaves troughs in spring to attract a mate.

Hordes of saffron meadow hawks (a beautiful dragon fly), like tiny helicopters criss-crossing the lawn in search of mosquitoes to devour.

The call of the great horned owl (called the grand duc d’amérique in French) in the evenings.

Watching a young grand duc solemnly walking up and down our yard, bending over every once in a while to eat a grasshopper.

Seeing his massive wing spread when he flies up to a post to get a better view.

The long, long days of summer.

Spectacular sunsets.

After a long winter, seeing the barren landscape explode into vibrant, lush green life.

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