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Has anyone considered unplugging Spring and plugging it back in to see if it will work right?

Not my creative headline, unfortunately, but a good one nonetheless, and well put in terms of how odd this Spring has been.

Except that this Spring has not been odd, if my memory serves me right. Not in the context of Spring happening over millennia and even over decades. Spring used to be a lot like the on-again-off-again odd weather we have experienced the past month.

When I was a kid, lo these many decades ago, Spring was a process. It was not a moment in time.

Spring took time to become Spring. It was the spaced-out staging of leaves and buds emerging, green poking up through the soil a bit at a time.

“April showers bring May flowers” went the old adage. Meaning that as a precursor to the warm weather with flowers was a sustained period of rain and cool or cold weather. That was Spring, spanning cold, rain, cold rain, and the gradual emergence of green things and then the crowning sign – flowers!

Showers, heck, I recall a snow blizzard in early April as I was casting a small dry fly on the lower reaches of Big Fishing Creek in Clinton County, near the Lamar trout hatchery. In my early twenties, in fact I might have been just twenty years old, I was stubbornly casting to “rising” trout despite a white-out snow storm blanketing the air and the stream’s surface with big white snowflakes. That a trout could tell the difference between a huge plump snowflake and a measly morsel of a vague-looking aquatic insect landing briefly on the surface was a leap of faith I was fully committed to taking, and making with every cast.

My youth’s crowning moment arrived when a much older man, probably someone my age now, stopped to watch me casting the dry fly amidst the snow storm.

“Pretty ambitious, dontcha think?,” he humorously called out from up above.

And right then a big fish whacked my drifting fly, and I hauled in one of the most colorful symbols of Spring, an iridescent rainbow trout. The guy looked at me slack-jawed, eyes wide in amazement, like I was some kind of fishing genius, and I looked up at the snowing heavens and mouthed a “Thank You.” One of the more memorable fish and fishing moments in a lifetime of fishing.

That day the air temperature was still spring-like, but the obvious above-ground temperatures were cold enough to generate snow. It was a  classic symbol of the kind of gradual and slowly shifting, two steps forward one step back warming change that Spring used to be.

But that was thirty, forty years ago. A different world, a different climate.

Apparently the earth’s switching magnetic polarity is now playing a big role in the Winter-to-Summer “Spring” times we have experienced for a long time now. This switch happens naturally every 200,000 to 300,000 years.

Because the earth’s polarity is switching, which means the North Pole becoming the South Pole and vice-versa (but what we arbitrarily call North and South remain the same) the earth’s magnetic field-cum-shield is at its weakest. Earth’s magnetic shield is at its weakest because the poles are swapping positions and the magnetic field strung up between the two poles is stretched to its thinnest. The earth’s magnetic field-cum-shield is one of the reasons our planet has so much life on it; a great deal of harmful cosmic rays and powerful solar ultraviolet (UV) light are caught in the magnetic “net” and they are blocked from reaching the earth’s surface.

Therefore, a lot more solar radiation has penetrated to the earth’s surface over the past few decades, with the kinds of unusual heat, warming, and strong winds that we have witnessed. As well as a lot more quick sunburns under what appear to be pretty normal sunny conditions. The sun is not necessarily stronger, but a lot more of its energy is reaching us. For now.

And that takes me back to that unplugging Spring. For about 35 years Spring has been kind of unplugged, in a way, and it will remain so for about another decade, until the polar switch is complete. And then these gradual Springtimes, like the one we just had, will become normal again.

I can’t wait for that to happen, because I enjoy a real Spring so very much, the change from one season to the next. Normally temperate climes like Pennsylvania appeal to me for that very reason.

Everything hinges on the nickel-iron core inside the earth. And we won’t be unplugging THAT any time soon.

Turkey Time

And now it is officially Turkey Time, the beginning of the Pennsylvania spring gobbler season.

A gobbler is a turkey that gobbles, which is nearly always a bearded male. Sorry, there are few transgendered turkeys in the wild, and those rare females (hens) who do grow a beard are just as much a target as the males. No artificial PC protections here!

Spring gobbler hunting is one of the lowest pay-off hunts possible, in terms of harvested birds, with success rates somewhere in the high single digits to low double digits. That’s a range of 9-15% success, which means about 85% to 91% of turkey hunters will hang up their shotgun and camo at the end of May without having put a harvest tag on a bird.

Not that hunters won’t shoot turkeys, oh occasionally they will. The question is whether or not the turkey knows it has been shot and decides to die in a place where the hunter can bring it to hand. Wild turkeys are exceptionally tough creatures, and with their tiny pea-sized brains, they can be difficult to actually kill, though shot. A friend of mine “rolled” a turkey at 6:10 am Saturday morning, two days ago, watching it fall over, flop around, and then suddenly stand up, run away, and then fly away. Long gone. It has happened to me, too.

When that happens, the hunter feels awful, for the bird, for himself, for his sense of capability. But like a coyote getting a mouthful of feathers after carefully stalking and ambushing a wild turkey, occasionally we human hunters get just a moment of opportunity and then blow it, too, as all predators must.

Turkey hunting is tough and low-yield not just because the birds are physically tough and can withstand being shot, but mostly because they make up for their low intelligence with a warp-speed sense of wariness.

Turkeys can see through concrete, my old friend John Plowman said.

While that statement is obviously untrue, it is a truism that experienced turkey hunters agree with. Somehow, wild turkeys possess eyesight and hearing so acute that it seems like X-Ray vision and NSA- quality listening capabilities. They bust hunters at every turn, at far distances, even when the hunter has done everything right: Concealment, calling, gun preparation, etc.  So even the best turkey hunters, who are seemingly magical beings themselves, because their understanding of turkey biology and habits is so good, can get skunked or go a long time before harvesting a bird.

Of course, it must be said the real harvest from turkey hunting is not tagging a bird. Rather, it is the time afield. Time watching the sunrise, listening to the sounds of the forest and field slowly awaken, listen to the sounds of people moving from sleep into active, and so on. And Spring time is a great time to watch the natural world’s most subtle beauties, accomplished by either time lapse photography or by sitting motionless up against a large oak tree for several hours, and taking note of rare wildflowers slowly emerging from under leaf litter, or watching a walking stick bug moving at a snail’s pace along a blueberry bush.

In the frenetic hustle and bustle of today’s American life, we typically rely on naturalists and professional photographers to capture these moments for us.

Turkey hunters go afield at 4:30 am, and discover these hidden other worlds ourselves.

Turtle Time

It is officially turtle time.

Every spring turtles of all types emerge from their muddy hideaways, under stream banks, under logs, or burrowed deep into the soft dirt on the side of a farm field.

Turtles are gentle creatures, hurting no one, and yet when they make themselves vulnerable by appearing on the sides of roads, or trying to cross roads, many drivers go out of their way to hit them. Seems obvious to say, a turtle hit by a vehicle will either die a long, lingering, painful death, or if they are small, they will be crushed outright.

What the hell is that about, anyway?

Seeing these sad, destroyed, dead little things strewn about on the roadsides is painful. Turtles really bother no one, and they should elicit human compassion and empathy for their slow but intense drive to find a safe and soft place to dig a hole and lay their eggs. It is not their fault that humans have built uncrossable roads with no wildlife tunnels, or that some humans delight in maiming little animals.

Please slow down along Front Street in Susquehanna Township and entering into Harrisburg, and give the turtles there a break. After millions of years of moving slowly, purposefully, and deliberately, they have earned it.

Magic is in the air, and so is Spring

Today may be the first day of Spring, but you’d never know it, with all the snow that fell last night and today.  Despite freezing temperatures all over the east, however, there is magic in the air.  And it carries Spring on its wings.  We can take heart.  Nicer weather is indeed here.

Last night I stood way up north on a mountain side, surrounded by a silent, black, and deeply starry sky.  Suddenly faint and quiet song and voices reached my ears.  What started out as human sounds that put me on guard then became the distinctly identifiable gabble of migrating geese, high above, flying northward.

Magically migrating geese, ducks, raptors, and songbirds passing through our neighborhoods and yards tell us that Spring is here, even if our eyes and heating bills indicate otherwise. Migration is a mysterious thing.  Some of it is now understood by scientists, and appreciated by novice naturalists, but much of it remains shrouded in utter mystery.  How did these birds develop this pattern?  Was it after the last Ice Age, ten thousand years ago, or was it after the previous Ice Age, 20,000 years ago?  And if it was after the first one, how did they hold onto their knowledge of where and when to fly, when they spent so much time not flying at Spring time?

Migrating birds have a very thin margin for error.  Go too far, too fast, and they run the risk of freezing to death, or starving, having burned too many precious calories to reach their Canadian and Arctic breeding grounds so far northward.  If they are too slow, they will reach their destinations with too little time to raise their chicks to a size sufficient to survive the trek south again, when the winds get heavy on the border lands just a few months from now.

Yesterday, hundreds of geese and ducks shared the quieter eddies of the Susquehanna River in Liverpool.

Today, all around the borough of Dauphin, migrating black-headed vultures took up roosting positions like hunch-shouldered sentinels of death, harbingers of gloom and dead carrion, on trees, car tops, house roofs, power poles, and street lamps.  This particular species of vulture is increasingly migrating into Pennsylvania in bigger numbers, and out-competing our more common (and “more” native) red-headed turkey vulture.

All of this magic is, to me, a sign of a the finger of God, with non-believers remaining perplexed, themselves, unable to draw upon human science alone to explain what is happening all around us.  Surely my distant skin-clad ancestors stood upon a receding ice sheet somewhere, spear in hand, eyes skyward, hearts leaping for joy, as they, too, knew that this magic presaged abundant food, rebirth, new life, a new beginning for all.

Don’t take this magic for granted.  Close your eyes at night and listen to the cries of the goose-honk music.  Be part of this ancient cycle, if only by letting your heart be lifted with those of the excited geese, at the knowledge of the coming of Spring.

Warmer weather can’t come too soon

What began as a happy trip to the wood shed for a load of seasoned oak in the Fall is now a crabby trudge through deep snow and ice, a drudgery opposite the cheerfulness felt with the first flames to beat back Winter’s early chill.

Spring warmth cannot come too soon.  Naturally, it will arrive, melt the Arctic snow cap occupying my lawn, and probably result in some Biblical flood carrying my home down river to the Chesapeake Bay.

Speaking of floods, and flood insurance, I am hopeful that the insane congresswoman Maxcine Waters will have her bizarre legislation permanently overturned, so that people can either afford to own their homes (something she is not familiar with or supportive of) or the Federal government will buy out the landowners so the societal costs and benefits are not concentrated on just the private property owners.  Government cannot change the social contract in one week.  Well, under liberals it can, of course.  Let’s rephrase that: Government should not restructure the social contract in such a short time that private property owners see their investments destroyed overnight.  That would be good government, something unknown to Maxcine Waters and her fellow liberals.

OK, belay that last “let it snow”

Like you and most everyone I know around Pennsylvania, I feel done with the snow. Yes, did I say “let it snow” a bunch yesterday?  Well, that was then and this is now.  Now, we are expecting another eight to twelve inches of snow in the next day.  On top of the six to eight inches of hardened crust, ice, and snow already on the ground, another foot is going to keep spring from arriving for a long time.

This much snow puts a stranglehold on our business operations.  Shuts down machinery.  Trucks cannot pick up, guys cannot cut, or even drive their trucks, let alone get their machines moving.

What really is telling about this cold is that at home, we have burned a solid three-plus cords of seasoned oak firewood.  We may be closing in on four burned to date.  We have enough to take us into the end of the longest cold winter, but that just means more work felling, cutting, hauling, splitting, and stacking. You know the old saw — “Firewood warms ya twice.”  You work hard making it, and then it warms you as a fire.  Indeed.

Hold on there, fellow Pennsylvanians.  Spring must be just around the corner.  Just a few weeks from now, the air should be in the mid-forties, smelling slightly earthy and damp, and a robin here and there will join the cardinal in the back yard.  Then you know relief is upon us.  Hold on.  You are in good company.

Happy Spring!

Who can resist joining the chirping happy birds now scampering and flitting across our lawns in search of worms, nesting materials, and mates?
The sun is up, the skies are blue, the smell of spring is on the breeze, the leaves are unfolding…
Spring is finally here. Chirp chirp!

Of Molotov cocktails and fishing expedition gaffes

It has been an interesting day today, at home and abroad.

Obama gave a bizarre speech in Israel, and Biden made yet another unbelievable gaffe. Who knew that an empty bottle and a fishing tool could become weapons, but here you have it.

Obama loaded his Jerusalem audience with ultra-leftists, most or all of whom did not stand to applaud when Obama stated that Israel has a right to exist. Throwing his second Molotov cocktail into the Middle East (the first one in Cairo that set off the Arab Winter), he declared that the bigoted Arabs bombing Israel are just like Canada next door to the US. Who knows what bizarre actions will follow. If the unrest across the Arab world is any indication, it’ll be ugly, violent.

Across the ocean and then back home, Joe Biden is still spending gobs of taxpayer money traveling about like an itinerant salesman, preaching gun confiscation, contrary to the US Constitution. Earlier, Biden spent over a million taxpayer dollars for just a night in Paris and a night in London. Apparently he thinks he is some sort of royalty, living the high life. Today, Biden said that former US Congresswoman Gabby Giffords had been “mortally wounded.” This is the same woman who is now advocating gun confiscation. Wounded terribly, awfully, tragically, yes. Mortally? Obviously not.

And that’s the problem with the Obama folks. What is obvious to so many other people is invisible to them. And the consequences of being wrong are enormous. But what me worry?

In the midst of war, flowers

In the midst of this political battle over retaining plainly stated Constitutional rights, I’m planning a wildflower hunt this spring. The location is in Middle Paxton Township on private land I manage. Amid all this testy unhappiness, it gives me something to smile about. I admit that my wife, children, and work give me much to smile about, but native wildflowers are a special weakness of mine. Finding a patch of trillium, wood sorrel, or Jack-in-the-pulpit always gives me hope. For these beautiful, delicate, gentle creations to survive and grow, much must be right in their small world.

And if there’s a small patch of All Right here, and there, and over there, then how much more there must be elsewhere. In a time of strife, these tiny, pretty thoughts remind me to be happy and remain hopeful.

See you little guys in April!