"Bayou Bill" Scifres
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Copyright © 2004 by Bill Scifres

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 poor."

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 inches).

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 others.

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.

All columns, essays, and photos are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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