The Blaine County Journal News-Opinion - We've Got The County Covered

Signs of spring around the U.S.


April 15, 2020

Native to north Africa and Europe, Scotch Broom was first introduced as an ornamental in California. Classified as a noxious weed in Washington, it chokes out pasture grass, fence lines and bare ground once it gets started.

Reporter's note: Sitting up here in Whitlash under Montana's 'stay at home directive.' My thoughts have turned to 'signs of spring.' My wife and I lived in eight states and 23 different places within those states during our 50+ years of marriage. I got to thinking about the different signs of spring we experienced at those 23 places.

A writer for an eastern North Dakota newspaper wrote, "We're each afforded our own perspective on the beginning of spring." Another way to say it might be, "Signs of spring are in the eye of the beholder." Here are a few of the signs of spring that I recall.

Spring in Montana from the

mountains to the Hills

In Whitlash I look out our kitchen window and see spring: the neighbors cows are calving in the small pasture we overlook; a pair of Canada geese returned to nest by the pond near the calving area; and a woodpecker stopped at our bird feeder for a few days. Of all those mentioned signs of spring, calving up in this country is the most widespread sign that spring is coming.

When we lived in Libby a good sign of spring was the snowmobiles on trailers parked with "for sale" signs on them. Seasonal Forest Service employees were getting the campgrounds in the Kootenai Forest ready for visitors and trail crews got the trails open for hikers. "Wood hawks," those folks who cut firewood either for a living or as a serous sideline, prowled the forest roads looking for trees to cut.

Signs of spring on the prairie and high plains-Wyoming and North Dakota

On the high plains of Wyoming, in Saratoga, during spring it was a challenge to find the "Goldilocks's temperature setting," you know, the just right temperature in the house. Stoke up the wood stove and it was too hot . Too cold to open a window. Variations in spring weather were the norm and spring weather might not show up until early summer. One July Fourth the main street had to be plowed of snow to hold the parade.

In the Red River Valley in eastern North Dakota, the earliest sign of spring was the state game and fish officials ordering permanent ice fishing huts off the lakes, usually March 15. In mid-March load limits were posted on paved secondary roads as the frost left the ground. The valley has a lot of grain farming, so another sign of spring was seeing farmers move planting and tillage equipment around, anxious to "get going."

The major sign of spring in eastern North Dakota is flooding. A rural friend said, "First the yard gets spongy, then the ditches start filling and pretty soon the river is out of its banks." The Red River flows north. Snow melts down south while ice still jams the river's northern outlet into Lake Winnipeg. The result can be widespread flooding of fields, country roads, interstates and towns. A common warning to kids is, "Stay out of the big drifts looking for Easter eggs!"

Spring on the west coast

For a couple of years we lived in outlying town north of Seattle. I was always amazed that winter out there was a lot like Montana springs-cool, wet and an occasional light snow.

Scotch Broom, a non-native plant, grows in any area not regularly mowed or tilled-especially along roadways. In spring it produces a yellow bloom and its pollen, along with pollen from grasses, can cause serious problems for folks with allergies

Spring is also when the slime-trails created by slugs begin to appear on sidewalks and driveways. The snail-like critters like dark, damp areas of a garden or flower bed. Locals say the best treatment to get rid of slugs is, "Place a saucer of beer in a depression just deep enough the slug can crawl over the edge in to the beer. The slugs fall in to the beer and drown." Must be a life lesson there some place.

And, finally, the deep south, Appalachia and the Midwest

We lived several years in various parts of central and north Georgia. A major sign of spring in the Atlanta area is when the dogwood trees bloom. It's a show of white and pink blooms that is spectacular. The Dogwood Festival in Atlanta, normally the early part of April, goes back nearly 90 years.

This is a photo of the Sorlie Bridge, looking across the Red River from Minnesota to Grand Forks, North Dakota. Bridge and road closures are common in the Red River valley as the snow melt overwhelms the north flowing river's capacity.

In Appalachia (we lived in Big Stone Gap, Virginia) sighting the first robin is a sign of spring. But there is a twist: if you see the first robin above you, that is good luck. If you see the robing below you, like in a valley, it could mean bad luck. Same forecasting of luck depends on which way you first see geese flying-it's too complicated for a short explanation.

Finally, I grew up in southern Illinois, an area much like the south. In the spring we had a few wild dogwoods and a similar sized tree called a red bud. The first sign of spring where I lived, in a coal mining area, was the Miners' Holiday on April 1-a day off from the mines. If the weather cooperated, that was the day most people planted their home gardens. By early April the lawn usually needed mowed but you waited until after the kids hunted Easter eggs.

Hopefully you have a certain sign that tells you spring is coming. Unfortunately, until the snow drifts go away up here in Whitlash, it'll be hard to think very seriously about spring's arrival.


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