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April, Time of Transition

Bill Sherwonit

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Walking along a favorite forest path, through a woodland that’s mostly gray and brown with scattered patches of white, I hear the distant shriek of gull: a sure sign that winter’s grasp is loosening.

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Here in Anchorage, we’re still weeks away from the full blush of a northern spring. Not until mid-May will our Alaskan landscape burst with green-up, as trees fully leaf out and wildflowers push slender shoots out of the warming ground. Not until then will the annual influx of migratory birds reach its peak, and forests and meadows ring loudly with the bright melodies of visiting songbirds. But I’ll savor the days and weeks that lead up to spring’s full blossoming, as we move out of winter’s depths, first slowly, then at an accelerating pace that becomes a frenzy.

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Already the sun shines upon us more than 14 hours daily. And each day we’re gaining more than 5½ minutes of daylight; each week, nearly 40. Not only are the days longer, they’re brighter. And warmer. Standing in my yard or walking through the woods, I can almost sense the earth stirring in its warming.

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Looking out my window on this April morning, I see a yard still partly draped in white.  And when I leave the house later today, I will dress for temperatures that won’t climb much above freezing.  But studying the home journals piled on the desk in front of me, I am reminded that April is a month of incredible change, miraculous transition.

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While many people suffer cabin fever as they await the truly spring-like temperatures and greens of May, I revel in the small, daily transformations that surround me and speak of changing seasons in what has become a favorite time of year.

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Gulls are among the first new arrivals to signal their reappearance, announcing their return in loud, screechy voices. Already I’ve seen and heard them along the coastal flats and flying above a supermarket parking lot; a flock of two dozen mew gulls even circled over my neighborhood recently, screeching raucously. Gradually they’ll nudge out the ravens who’ve been feasting on human foods and garbage all winter long. As the gulls take over, most ravens will leave town, to nest and rear young in forests and hills.

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April is also the month that large Vs of honking geese slice across our skies. To many residents there is no sweeter sound or more hopeful sight. The geese talk loudly among themselves while flying from one lake to another; they chase each other across the greening lawns outside Anchorage’s Loussac Library and thrill excited children, who tug on parents’ arms and ask if they can join the chase. Even more exciting to me is the arrival of sandhill cranes, with their primeval roarking calls.

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Closer to home, robins’ sweet warbled songs echo again through the neighborhood, to mix with the more dissonant telephone-ringing calls of varied thrushes and the long and complex songs of ruby-crowned kinglets, tiny but loud singers whose springtime music has become a favorite of mine.  Perched on tree tops, male songbirds announce territories and call in females, while already mated pairs begin their nest-building rituals.  By month’s end, swallows will swoop and dive overhead as they cut broad arcs against the evening sky and I wonder why I haven’t yet put up a birdhouse to welcome them to the yard.

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Butterflies,  bumblebees and springtime’s slow-moving mosquitoes miraculously re-inhabit the April air while below them spiders and ants scurry along the ground and front-yard deck.  Catkins sprout from willows, green buds push out of the earth, and the snow-white coats of snowshoe hares take on a mottled appearance, as patches of fur turn to summertime’s brown.

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Before long—if not already--bear sightings will be reported along the wooded fringes of town or even within residential neighborhoods, and residents are again reminded to properly store dog food and garbage.  Perhaps it’s too much to expect, that Anchorage’s human residents will welcome bear’s return from winter hibernation.  But can’t we at least remove temptations, to prevent our ursine neighbors from becoming problem bears?

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Yard work is transformed as well.  April is the month that driveway snow shoveling gives way to lawn and tree maintenance and bird-seed clean-up.  Sweating in 40 or even 50-degree warmth, I’ll rake leaves and dead grass into piles even as new green blades of grass sprout through last year’s browns.

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In April I go for more and longer hikes into the woods and mountains.  I notice chickadees and woodpeckers excavating holes in rotted-out cottonwoods, try to match forest melodies with newly arrived avian migrants, look for fresh bear tracks in the mud and signs of early wildflowers.

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This year I’ll again listen for the hiccupy songs of wood frogs, the only amphibians to inhabit Anchorage. Their voices have become as much a part of my annual April celebration as geese and songbirds and bears, rushing creek and yard clean-up, a prelude to Alaska’s short but remarkably rich spring and summer seasons. Every day, it seems, there is more to celebrate in this time of renewal and rebirth.

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Bill Sherwonit
Anchorage Daily News Bloggers