Those of us who live here in the Midwest are blessed to have seasons. I know that most of us didn’t feel too blessed, though, only a few weeks ago when it appeared that Winter would never give up. Seasons are always out there ahead of us as something to look forward to when we tire of the season we’re in. I’m ready to use the word “past” when referring to Winter, even though the forecast as I write this week includes snow for at least some Iowans before the weekend is over.
Spring has flirted with us several times in the past few weeks, but I was never sure I could trust her. Winter’s threat was still pretty strong. Some things have happened since last week, though, and I have decided that Spring can be trusted after all. My seasonal clock has been reset! I have worked my garden soil to prepare for this summer’s crops. Hundreds of earthworms rolled up, happy and munching on all the shredded leaves and composted manure that I tilled in last fall. Second, and just as significant, I have seen the first woodland wildflowers! Gorgeous little clusters of hepatica were in full bloom along the trail at Robison Wildlife Acres south of Nevada on Saturday afternoon, April 12. I don’t recall a spring hepatica display with so many of the deeper pink and blue shadings. White or very pale pink or blue are the more typical colors. Perhaps the dry conditions that have been so persistent favor deeper colors. Look for more hepatica on north and east facing slopes along the George Clark Trail at McFarland Park or along the trail to Bear Creek at Soper’s Mill.
The back side of the approaching weather system may, indeed, bring cold rain and even some snow, but I know that Winter can’t hold on as it gasps its dying breaths. Tree swallows were picking insects out of the sky and other birds are hauling nesting material around my yard. Farmers were in the field getting some spring tillage done. Spring will only grow stronger in the weeks ahead.
Dry conditions have made prescribed burning of native grass, timber savanna and planted conservation reserve (CRP) areas challenging, but a few sites are freshly blackened where successful burns were conducted. The black surface will warm all the more quickly as sun strikes the soil surface and triggers a flush of spring growth. Nutrients tied up in old dead plant tissue are freed by fire and seep into the soil with even small showers, where they will be reused by growing plants. When properly timed, planned, controlled burns can be very beneficial, even essential, for maintaining native ecosystems. Poorly planned or tended fires can become destructive wildfires, though. Don’t attempt to manage a fire without enough crew and equipment (including water). Be prepared to hold off if the Weather Service has issued red flag warnings indicating dangerous burning conditions. Complete fire bans may go into effect, as well, if timely spring rains don’t appear.
I noted a lone boat with two anglers on Little Wall Lake this morning as I drove past. The shallow, mud-bottomed lake will warm faster than deeper lakes like Hickory Grove, Ada Hayden or Big Creek. I have no idea if those anglers were catching anything, but smaller ponds and shallow lakes will warm enough to have active fishing long before deeper bodies of water. I have some other outdoor activities, like a spring turkey hunt, planned first, but getting my little boat on the water is going to become a priority very soon. It’s hard to compare store-bought fish to a batch of fresh-caught blue gill or crappie fillets. Larger, colder lakes can sometimes offer some early fishing when warm south winds push warmer surface water into them. It will feel good just to be out with fishing pole in hand, even if they’re not quite ready to bite yet.
(Steve Lekwa is a retired Story County Conservation director. He lives in Nevada.)