Lake County News-Sun Lake County News-Sun Opinion

Outdoors column: In spring, it’s time to be Zen-like



Photos of blooming crocuses and red-winged blackbirds are flooding social media. Alongside the photos are comments about crabapple trees that will soon bloom and queries about when to put up the hummingbird and oriole feeders.

This year, although it can be difficult, I’m trying to approach spring with a Zen mind, not thinking of what is to come and what I desire, but bowing to the wisdom of the universe and how spring unfolds moment by moment.

Each morning, I walk outdoors and see plenty of bare soil and leaf-strewn places in the garden where prairie plants flourished last summer. Little green sprouts are here and there, and the Virginia bluebell leaves have burst through the soil.

But instead of thinking, oh soon, the bluebells will bloom, I listen and watch what is happening because spring is not coming. It’s here.

A male cardinal sings a song so loud it’s as if he’s using a megaphone. I remind myself to listen and enjoy now, because that lilting vocalization will be quieted later on, as raising a family takes precedence over attracting a mate.

My thoughts race to the future, when many more bird songs will echo in neighborhoods and natural areas.

One bird song I long to hear is the chattering, liquid, almost-too-loud-for-its-size bursts of melodies of the ruby-crowned kinglet which will return in April.

But a Zen mind is being fully present. So for today, I will focus on that cardinal song, this sound that gets forgotten amidst more avian melodies as spring progresses. The cardinal sings at least 28 distinct song phrases. I listen for them, but remain content to revel in exactly what they are singing, not what I want them to sing.

Spring is also the time when two Illinois winter visitors, dark-eyed junco and American tree sparrow, begin singing. The amount of daylight gives them cues to start practicing their vocalizations before they fly north for summer. Trills of the juncos and tinkling melodies of the tree sparrows join with the cardinal and a scolding robin. This is what is vocalizing right now, today. At no other time will I hear this early spring chorus.

I bend to the ground to view the soft, luxurious leaves of Virginia bluebells poking up in the soil. I love their texture, their color and their size right now. The leaves contain hues of green, blue and purple. The terminal buds of the buckeye are starting to swell, and a silver maple is in full bloom. Tiny clusters of small reddish flowers hang from the maple tree’s branches. This is the time to enjoy those blossoms before the leaves unfold.

For the past few weeks, several bald eagles have been visiting Butler Lake in Libertyville, which is right next to a high school. One or two adult bald eagles with white heads and white tails joined a few immature bald eagles, wearing splotches of gray, black and white.

How many teachers, students and walkers have seen the eagles, noticed their beauty and wondered what they are doing here and why some have different plumages? I usually go to Butler Lake in May to see migrating songbirds, but I went earlier this year, when I thought spring had not yet arrived, and I saw the eagles.

Some outdoors lovers have told me they’ve heard chorus frogs singing in a few places. One day soon, while exploring the outdoors, I’ll hear their telltale vocalizations that sound like someone running a finger across a comb. But for now, I’ll listen to whatever nature is saying in the present.

Studying ecology, plants, birds, amphibians and mammals for many years has helped put me in tune with the slow unfolding of spring. But even beginning naturalists can stroll in the yard, or along a wetland, or in a woodland and listen and realize that spring is not coming. It’s here and now. As New York Times best-selling book author Eckhart Tolle has written, there is “power” in “now.”

Sheryl DeVore has worked as a full-time and freelance reporter, editor, and photographer for the Chicago Tribune and its subsidiaries. She’s the author of several books on nature and the environment. Send story ideas and thoughts to [email protected].



Sheryl De Vore , 2024-03-12 14:22:12

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