Wednesday, June 19, 2013

A delight for the senses

Springtime is a delight for the senses. Each morning when I venture outside, countless little pleasures invade my conscious and my subconscious. Pouring in through every portal come sounds, smells, sights, touches, and tastes of the season.

First, and long before the sun even thinks about rising, come the loon calls. The territorial pair in the bay near my house defends their space with maniacal yodels and distressed tremolos. As the horizon lightens to a soft pink, a hummingbird buzzes up to the feeder, the vireo starts to slur its morning greeting of “Here I am…Over here...In the trees...Where are you?” and the ovenbird shouts its “teacher Teacher TEACHER!” much too loudly for the early hour.

As I ride my bike along the county highway, birds singing in the swamps, fields, forests, and yards form a sort of sonic gauntlet. Trills, chatters, chips, warbles, whistles, and the downward spiraling, eerily flute-like calls of the Veery fill my ears from every angle. In some wetlands the spring peepers still peep loudly. Geese honk, crows caw, and even the wind has a particular sound as it meanders through the emerging leaves. What have you been listening to?

The ride home in the heat of the afternoon, with sunbeams shining hot on every surface, releases all of sorts of early summer smells. First there is the sweet smell of the apple tree on the edge of town, its snowy white flowers just humming with bees. Then there is the sulfurous smell of the swampy ditches, where plants, decomposing without oxygen all winter, have released their own particular boggy perfume.

Warm trees have their own smell, as does the river as it rushes headlong over the dam. The spray has a particular musty odor that I love. Then there is the funk of the deer repellent I spray on my cold frame garden, because the vigorous broccoli plants can no longer fit under the glass. Soon the lilacs will bloom, or maybe yours already have. What is your favorite smell of spring?

The visual beauty of spring is almost too much to describe. Just like many of you, I could fawn over each individual flower, and the beautiful patchwork of greens in the developing leaves, or the reflections on a glass-calm lake.

And what a treat to glimpse the neon-bright plumage of a scarlet tanager.  “The scarlet tanager flies through the green foliage as if it would ignite the leaves. You can hardly believe that a living creature can wear such colors,” wrote naturalist Henry David Thoreau. Yet believe I must, since twice recently these blindingly gorgeous birds have darted out into the road as I pass by. Other folks – more than usual it seems -- have reported seeing scarlet tanagers at their bird feeders, in their yards, and deep in the woods on birding walks. Where do your eyes feast these days?

As visual creatures, we may sometimes be biased toward just looking at the world. It is often nice to touch as well. Just this morning, I paused to rub a baby hazel leaf between my fingers, and was delighted by the delicate furriness of its crinkly surface. Even while focused on seeing a bird or a plant, my skin is at work, experiencing the world. Not even a scarlet tanager will distract me when I feel that particular tickle of a tick on my neck. Have you felt it, too?

Finally, for me, the taste of spring comes from the wild leeks that form a living carpet in the woods. Just walking through a patch fills the air with their pungent aroma. Not quite onions, not quite garlic…a wild scent all their own. One bite of a leaf will leave you with leek-breath for hours, but I still gather handfuls for my morning omelets, and blend bunches into creamy pesto. What have you been nibbling on in the woods?

Have you been using your senses fully? It’s never too late to start! The universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.

For over 45 years, the Cable Natural History Museum has served to connect you to the Northwoods. Come visit us in Cable, WI, at 13470 County Highway M. The current exhibit, “Deer Camp: A Natural and Cultural History of White-tailed Deer,” opened in May 2013 and will remain open until April, 2014.

Find us on the web at to learn more about our exhibits and programs. Discover us on Facebook, or at our blogspot,

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