Mingo Mornings: An April Walk Around Mingo Woods
By Patricia Tanner Candal
With morning coffee and camera in hand, I walk the edge of Mingo swamp to look for early signs of spring. This year, after a warm winter, Spring has been easing in since mid-March. Here the first color of spring is blue, seen in the tiny, four-petaled blossoms of bluets. Hundreds of these two-inch tall plants create patches of purple and periwinkle in the still-brown grass of winter. Our state's flower, yellow jessamine, began displaying her gamboge yellow flowers over fences, and the mockingbird outside my window sings with persistence in April, seeming to support all of Nature shouting, “Come outside and see what's happening.” It's my favorite month at the edge of this swamp. I've come to expect Nature to surprise me every time I go exploring.
On a warm day recently I worked at an outside sink to sort some seeds I had saved from last summer's garden. Standing there I became aware that the small oak tree behind me was humming. Turning and looking up I saw and heard honey bees, not in a swarm as they can be in early spring, but circling and stopping, alone and in clusters of three or four, just below some holes ringing the trunk of the tree. Then I spotted the downy woodpecker on the other side of the tree, drilling for grubs and bugs. I stood for awhile, just watching.
The bees were collecting the sap that drained from the holes. Perhaps they were hungry, as they can be after winter and before the first nectar flow. Maybe they were gathering the resinous liquid to make propolis, which is “bee glue” they use for filling every little crack in the hive to keep out unwanted critters. As I separated dry peas from their pods and stripped basil seeds from their stems, I listened to the music of the bees buzzing and the woodpecker pecking and became acutely aware that Nature's cycles are running all the time. All I have to do is go outside to see and hear.
One little worker bee came to the table and just sat for a long time. After an hour or so, I picked her up with my fingernail, and she crawled from thumb to index finger for about ten minutes before I put her down. Fortunately for me she wasn't interested in stinging. Fortunately for her, too, as a worker bee will die if she loses her stinger in a person.
On an early April morning walk, I saw numerous spring violets in the dead leaves and grass. Strewn across the yard were the funneled webs of more than one hundred and fifty grass spiders, their webs looking like white dew-covered skirts settled around invisible dolls.
I noticed that the dogwoods are prettier this spring than I can ever remember them to be. Recent rain and relative warmth have opened the blossoms, and the cool snaps in the weather haven't damaged their whiteness. This striking contrast to the layers of various greens of the new-budding trees adds a crisp vibrancy to the spring canvas God is painting around us. I tried to count the flowering dogwoods edging their way around this place but stopped at twenty-three. Only one has pink-tinged flowers. The birds will be happy with the seeds in the fall.
Down in the forest I spotted new growth of leaves on small hickories, their buds stretching like fingers, opening to celebrate the warmth. Buckeye blossoms patterned the shrub layer, adding scarlet and a little yellow to the wash of greens all around. The atamasco lily, sometimes called the wild Easter lily because of when it blooms, captures my attention in the swamp every April, like a friend you know will come and shows up without calling. I'm always happy to see them both.
Waking to the morning call of the mockingbird and walking a cup of hot tea around the edge of the swamp in April remind me that Nature is always at work and often offering sheer joy.
Patricia Tanner Candal lives on the edge of Mingo Creek swamp with her husband Steve, parakeet Norton, dog Shandy, twenty happy chickens, one bee colony and a bunch of flowers, herbs and other plants. Her E-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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