Ode to Spring in Brown County

by Mark Blackwell

The daffodils are daffling,
The dogwoods are in bud,
The crocuses are croaking,
My road’s ankle-deep in mud.
Spring’s the time to go a’hiking,
Be careful every step you take
You don’t want to stir a copper head’s nest
Or rouse a sleeping rattlesnake.
It’s springtime in the hills o’ Brown
The creek-fords are a’flood
My imagination is unbound
But I’m up to my ankles in mud.
The ice has all melted,
The snow is all gone,
Uncovering the leaves
That lay un-raked on the lawn.
But I’m feeling alright
I’ve got spring in my blood,
And I’m up to my ankles
In Brown County mud.

Spring still amazes me. It’s poetry—even to an old curmudgeon like myself.

It’s time to put away the snow shovels, ice scrapers, splittin’ mauls, insulated boots, and overcoats. Winter is over. Every year it seems it comes on a little harder and stays a little longer. Winter tends to make me feel about ten years older than I am but spring gives me back about nine of those years. This condition may be a result of me getting older and living through so many Indiana winters. The only solutions I can think of are moving to Florida or death. I’m not enthused about either possibility. So, I’ll just continue to hold out for spring with what it takes to get through the cold and the snow.

Spring is a powerful season. It seems to overwhelm the good sense of almost all wildlife (including human beings) and it strips them of their innate dignity and purpose. The squirrels are out chasing each other dizzy, up, down, and around the trees. Normally inhibited rabbits are squaring off in the clearings and boxing each other like welter-weights. I’ve got a woodpecker that is suddenly possessed of the notion that my cabin is made out of infested beech wood. And look what happens to the noble ruffed grouse.

For most of the year this noble bird conducts himself with impressive decorum, going about his business (grousing, I suppose). Then everything changes with the equinox. The first hint of a warm southern breeze has this most serious of birds out in the middle of my road dancing a Hoochie-coochie that would make Aunt Tillie blush. He’s got his chest ruffed up, his wings out flappin’ around and he’s doin’ the tush-push while making some kind of strange thrumming noises. It would only be more comical if you didn’t see the same action in some of the student bars over in Bloomington.

Despite all the craziness, spring is a special time here in the hills. Brown County is a naturalist’s paradise with all the un-inhabited, un-paved, and wooded land. It doesn’t matter if your specialty is bird watching, botany, or just getting out in the fresh air after a long winter indoors. This is the place to be. I love being able to go out and watch the flights of Canada geese and sandhill cranes migrating north. All the honkin’ and hootin’ they make on their way over to Yellowwood Lake and Lake Lemon always lifts my spirits. I am entertained by the all the other migratory birds coming back and squabbling over territory.

I love foraging the woods for mushrooms and fresh greens: poke, dock, dandelion, and lambs quarters. I got the bug from my grandparents. Old-timers considered a meal of spring greens to be a tonic that got you past your winter complaints. Folks do feel a little more energized after they wander around the woods in warmer weather and then eat up the jolt of vitamins from the greens.

Spring is time to put in the garden. For a couple of months you get to sit by the fire contemplating seed catalogs, dreaming, and planning. Now it’s time to turn that earth and get your early peas in the ground. Gardening is a partnership with the season. Nature promises to increase daylight hours, bring rain, and provide the conditions that will bring to fruition the seeds that we invest in the soil. That’s a good contract and it certainly provides a better return on your investment than Wall Street.

There is nothing quite so beautiful as spring in Brown County. It’s one of the reasons the artists came here. The dogwood and redbud trees conspire to splash color in and around the misty green of the oaks, hickories, beech, maples, poplars, and aspen. Even the green briar and Russian olive bushes look good. The settlers left us legacies of daffodils, lilies, and rose bushes throughout the woods. These clumps of flowers and ornamentals are springtime memorials of farmsteads now swallowed up by the forest.

I like to think of the flowers once planted in yards and on graves as a gift from those who first settled the county a hundred years ago. They opened their cabin doors to Brown County spring mornings full of beauty, hope, and mud. Today whenever we plant a tree or a perennial we also pass the gifts on to other generations. I hope those folks in the future will think of us kindly, too.