“Phenology is a way of seeing the earth, the fact you keep records of the sudden changes the way you see natural systems around you.”
— Estella Leopold, eminent scientist and daughter of Aldo Leopold.
By John Hanson, community contributor
Rarely do earthworms and dandelions elicit positive comments.
The former is considered an impediment to clean-conscious strolls on wet sidewalks, or bait. The latter draws scorn as a weed and harbinger of the unending battle that is yard work.
I saw my first earthworm of the spring on April 12 and, as a bonus, the day also marked my first sighting of dandelion blooms.
A robin may mark the spring for most, but I think the feathered champion of suburbia was a horrible forecaster this year.
I remember the date so clearly because I wrote it down — actually I emailed myself the note. Lists, logs and journals help me remember my ramblings in nature. Even a short note can stoke a vivid memory years later. My paper collections are not as well organized as they should be, but they exist and I’ve grown adept at digging through my files, or is that piles?
Iowa native and legendary conservationist Aldo Leopold was an inveterate note taker. In the “July” chapter of a Sand County Almanac, he admitted to a record he kept of wildflowers for the decade he lived in Madison against the same record of his recreational farm. He said, “Keeping records enhances the pleasure of the search and the chance of finding order and meaning in these events.”
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Leopold’s notes helped legislatures craft laws and inspired legions of scientists. For the rest of us our personal enjoyment will alone suffice.
I wonder if earthworms are better signals of spring than robins? Robins return whether it’s warm or not. Perhaps their enthusiasm for the friendly neighborhoods of the Midwest are too tempting? Or maybe by March the robins have overstayed their southern hosts and fear the charms will become curses?
At any rate, I don’t recall seeing snow after the return of earthworms. The thawing of the soil is more substantive than a couple of fair days in which Mr. Robin catches a free ride on warm thermals. I remember February, that seemed more like spring. Thank goodness the state keeps sharp notes to check against my fuzzy memory.
As an incurable romantic of birds and trees, life on the ground can get overlooked. But spring is a time when we can all find something wondrous in nature. Be it high or low, forest or front yard, life is returning with vigor. Time to start a new list.
Looking up, looking ahead, and keeping my pencil sharp.
l John Lawrence Hanson, Ed.D., of Marion teaches U.S. history with an emphasis on environmental issues at Linn-Mar High School and sits on the Linn County Conservation Board.