When the sun warms and turns to April there is little reason to travel far from home. Yet spring is the time of year when church, business, and non-profit meetings come out of the woodwork. Created within each of us, I imagine, is a springgene of sorts kicking in an emotional calling to engage in spiritual search. Sometimes with others. Sometimes alone. After winter’s indoor confinement and outdoors heavy coat and boots and pants and gloves, the light jacket of spring pulls upon an ancient inclination to watch newborn grass break ground, rabbits browsing upon breaking leaves of greasewood, or a hawk catching an updraft. However, much life has shifted from the body’s seasonal nature; too often we are left with little more than meetings and conferences to fill our post-winter emotional and spiritual needs.
Luck has it my away from home April meetings were canceled. Allowing springs call to give an ear to wind and an eye to landscape. Such good fortune should not be wasted but known for the joy to use winter’s learned skills of living quietly and slowly. In this season of rapid change, a bit of gentle listening and watching may just bring one close as Creation crafts birth, remembrance, and reconciliation. Yesterday’s mundane of cold and motionless explodes in this season—minutes, hours, days—to movement and action. To miss a spring moment is to miss a multitude of unknowns. The thought has me turn my collar up against a light but chilly breeze, leave the farm behind, and walk toward the ridge.
The drainage ditch is flowing unhurriedly as I reach it. A hen mallard slips from the reeds and ten hatchlings furiously paddle behind her. She stops paddling, the current carries her down through the brood to the last hatchling, she groups them up and moves them further upstream away from me. A good move, the ridge is downstream. I turn and walk away from them.
To the east a farm still has three-foot cornstalk in the field from Novembers harvest. Folk have turned cow-calf pairs into the field who now feed on the dry cornstalk. Grasses will soon have the height and sugars to become this season’s feed. Maybe the stalk will be enough, without buying more feed, to get the cattle to grass. The farmer to the west has stored feed remaining and is busy discing last fall’s cornstalk into the dirt. With a steady sound of a tractor behind me I reach the old wood-plank bridge that crosses a branch of Toppenish creek.
The creek is high, but its movement even less visible than that of the ditch. Cresting its banks sometime in the last few days, the creek tells the flood plain of warmer weather upstream. The road on the other side of the bridge has water flowing over it for the next thirty feet or better. Crossing to dry road means getting wet. Just how wet depends if water comes over my boot tops. I take the chance and hope for no more than two or three inches of water. A couple steps and I know luck isn’t mine today as boots fill with water who remembers itself as melting snow forty miles upstream. Fine then. I’ll count on a decent circulatory system and feet warming boot water. Soon. At water’s edge I leave the dirt road and walk downstream. Finding a piece of ground twenty feet from a small eddy I sit down. Grasses rise above my head.
Pulling the canvas jacket down below my belt I lie on my back. Little doubt britches and jacket alike will soon know the morning dew, but life is nothing if not of hope. Hope that enduring a little dampness in the tall grass will allow animals to fearlessly settle into the flooded landscape.
The skyscape above has clouds drifting to the east. They meld in one moment. Pull and split in the next. Cloud grays are as varied as a gray rainbow. A wind busily shapes and reshapes floating water form and function. Beyond and between clouds the morning sky sings blue playing with purple. I am about to thank my good fortune of wet boots and the lack of a thermostat-controlled conference environment when hard wing flaps break through my thoughts. Sandhill cranes fly by just out of reach—at least so it seems. One speaks and then another and then many warbling voices croon. Birds of this size and shape and voice harken of an ancient time when such massive birds covered the air and worried not at all of a sky filled with human-made intrusions.
Rolling to my side I see through the grass a hen and drake mallard have found the eddy. Paddling in and out of grass bunches their heads randomly drop and feed. There is a carefulness to their actions, but they are more carefree than not. Perhaps they figure no self-respecting coyote with a lick of good sense would venture into the water; if one should they must believe they would hear it before it was too late. Though the coyote occupies this same landscape it lives with a very different sense of chance. In that chance there is no sense of balance, no quid pro quo, only the ease of mistake and the easy quickness of life and death. Do ducks consider such thoughts? Do they wonder life, death, and resurrection conundrums or are those left to human thought alone? Might it be those trinomial truths are natural duck and coyote normals and they have no need of the interior exploration humans require so deeply? Without thinking, or maybe too much thinking, I stretch a leg and dry wheatgrass seed stems around me rattle. If the drake and hen were wondering about coyotes they don’t any longer and without bothering to look my way they make one hard flap along with a startled quack and rise into the air; getting the hell away from me.
The two lean south and fly toward Toppenish ridge as I sit up. This stretch of ridge is snowless, but elevates as it moves toward the western slope of the Cascades. Eight maybe ten miles away there is enough elevation for snow to remain in random long drawn out streaks running from the ridge’s crest down its slope. Each streak reflects a draw. Some snow streaks indicate draw drainages where the sun seldom reaches. Others streak across the ridge of a draw’s eastern slope; indicating morning sunlight does not bless the east with the heat it invokes in the afternoon for the draw’s western slope. Though a singular draw, life to the east is different than that of the west.
My britches declare the morning dew’s dampness. I stand. To the north a coyote trots. Had she been near earlier? Was I so lost in my thoughts I was thatunobservant? What if this morning were cougar and human rather than duck and coyote; would I have fared as well as a duck? She looks back over her shoulder. Maybe with some surprise, but certainly not frightened. Perhaps she thinks me too far away to be of a threat. Maybe, but no coyote lives long in this ranching community taking chances. She breaks into a lope. Coming upon a fenceline she scoots under the barbwire and disappears into the brush. She has her reason to move out of this space but little reason to go far from home.