Item: The red-winged blackbird has replaced the robin as official harbinger-of-spring.
Son-of-a-gun! All I can say is: Anyone who has only one or two harbingers-of-spring
is a basket case.
The old folks at good ol' Crothersville used to say that anyone who
had a lot one item, but not much else, was so-and-so poor. Like, say a
struggling chicken farmer, would be cackle poor, or egg poor.
If I could live at C-ville again, in the eyes my peers, I would be "harbinger-of-spring
Oh, it is true, as the self-appointed and annointed pundits say, you
can't depend on the robin anymore because it winters in good numbers in
Hoosierland--it always is here.
Thus, the red-winged blackbird must bear the brunt of harbingerism (I
just coined that word).
As much as I enjoy seeing "Klee" (my name for the red-wing male
because that is what he sings as he sits forlornly on the dry stalk of
last year's cattail as giant snowflakes swirl around his head), I can't
pin all of my hopes for sunburn-type days on this fellow's pretty shoulders.
Yes, and I do so much enjoy seeing what I suspect is an early covey
of robins with their rich, brownish-orange breasts vainly searching for
lunch in my front-yard jungle.
But over the years my harbinger-of-spring list has been many-sided,
and it has embraced both plant and animal kingdoms.
For example, I shan't forget a late winter day in the 1950s when I had
mushed through deep snow to get to the middle of White River with my ice
spud. I was there to determine thickness of the ice (it was well over 18
It had been a long, harsh winter. But on this sunbathed Sunday afternoon
there was a high sky filled with clouds of buttermilk. As I stood there
at the middle of the river, a male song sparrow cut loose with his "springs-a-comin'"
song as I pushed all of my old reliable harbinger's aside to make a spot
for this fellow.
Another year, when I was lucky enough to have a spring-fed pond in my
front yard, I was getting the spring itch and kept looking for some unsuspecting
harbinger to pop up and tell me spring was knocking at my door.
Toward mid-afternoon on a sun-blessed day I was headed out to check
the mail, a walk of three or four hundred feet. Instead of crunching down
the crushed-stone driveway, I decided to take the scenic route along the
east edge of the pond.
The sun, still high, was bathing the shallow water along the east bank
of the pond. I was looking for any sign that the food chain of the pond
might be awakening when I noticed a slight movement of the dark, decaying
leaves from the previous fall. I froze, my eyes glued to the movement--what
could it be?
It took several minutes for the mystery to unfold before my wondering
eyes, but then there it was . . . the snout and blinking eyes of one of
my resident snapping turtles . . . awakening from a winter of slumber in
the blue mud of the bottom of the pond. Another harbinger . . . another
spring . . . is born.
Over the years I have added to my life list of harbingers-of-spring
such perfectly astounding natural phenomena as mourning doves sailing into
thickets, gaggles of geese breaking up into family units, the bud of red
maple trees turning into beautiful pinkish-red and green flowers (when
viewed with a magnifying glass), buds of buckeye trees swelling, and innumerable
I guess if some potentate decreed that I had to choose one harbinger-of-spring
to represent me at vernal equinoxial celebrations, I would give the job
to (who else) the Harbinger-Of-Spring (Erigenia bulbosa), the earliest
of our true earth-dwelling wildflowers.
As many of us know her, Salt and Pepper gets her name from the fact
that this is what she looks like--some grains of salt and pepper perched
on some tiny light green leaves an inch or so above the earth. You have
to get close to get a good look at this miniature, but when you see her,
spring is nigh.
At this point Salt and Pepper is just pushing its way up through a still-cold
earth. But when its minute tan and white flowers open, spring beauty and
other late-sleepers will join the spring extravaganza.