These words are being written on the first day of spring and in a room offering about as fine a view as one could wish. I'm in the heart of the Smokies, where I grew up, looking out over the valley of the Tuckasegee River at the Alarka Mountains and their crowning peak, Frye Mountain. It's an inspiring vista at any season, but on the cups of spring and with a strong cold front having cleared the air, the view is breathtaking. So are the signs of coming spring.
For the outdoorsman, there's probably no lovelier time of year. I instinctively realized as much long ago, as a youngster, and in the ensuing years my love of greening-up time has steadily grown.
Thanks to a high school biology teacher's stroke of genius, I delved deeply into the signs, sights and symbols of spring at a fairly early age. Our major project for the semester was to walk through the woodlands and along remote paths. As we did so, the assignment was to find as many different plants as possible, identify them by their common and scientific names, and for extra credit note any uses they had for humans. To this day I recall a surprising number of scientific names, but more significantly, I pay attention to plants and ponder their place in our existence.
Certainly a simple walk to notice re-awakening plants is one of spring's most delightful experiences. For example, just yesterday in the immediate aftermath of heavy rains, I ambled along sodden paths in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Telltale splashes of yellow (jonquils and forsythia) revealed old home sites. Closer observation showed the delicate blue blooms of periwinkle (also known as vinca, and here in the high country, the quaint name of graveyard ivy, since the plan is invariably found around old cemeteries). Then there were the vivid reds of budding maples, the delicate blue and white blossoms of bluets, and the white of flowering service trees. On the forest floor one sees more shades of green than would seem possible, ranging from the palest green of daylilies just poking through the ground to the vivid, shiny green of galax leaves.
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Before long, wildflower time in all its glory will arrive, although that does not come until late April and May. Meanwhile though, the harbingers of spring are here, and not only in the plant world. From my lofty second-story perch high up on a ridge I can peek out the window and watch courting cardinals, and at dawn the air is full of the songs of birds.
Two days ago, while doing a bit of driving to measure road distances in connection with a book on fishing in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park I am writing (if you would like to be notified when the book appears, just drop me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, I traveled up the drainage of the Oconaluftee River. Not once but twice flocks of turkeys caught my eye, and in one case the group included two strutting toms. That's a sight which thrills my hunter's soul, but even in an area such as the Park where there is no hunting, it is a joy to watch the mating display of wild gobblers.
Predictably, given my personal inclinations, that same trip involved a bit of fishing in an obscure although readily accessible little stream. An hour's effort produced several brook trout (although to locals they are speckled trout, specks, mountain trout, or natives -- but never know by the name of brook trout). Vividly colored and as emblematic of all that is wild, pure, and pristine, these jewels of mountain streams reminded me of any number of early spring days in my boyhood where I greeted earth's reawakening by camping in some remote corner of the Park for a weekend of fishing.
Of course spring is further advanced in the piedmont region where most of this newspaper's readership resides, and that translates to even more beauty for those who take the time to get outside and enjoy it. Take a walk, go fishing, do some scouting for the upcoming turkey season, or maybe go camping. Whatever takes you outdoors though, take the time to observe, and observe closely, the natural world around you. You will find that doing so soothes your soul and makes the world's troubles seem less complex and more remote, for there's no tonic for the mind like the greening-up time of spring.
As today's column suggests, this is a wonderful time of the year just to get outside and savor the changing season. If this can be combined with some fishing, a bit of scouting for turkeys, outdoor photography, or a similar pursuit, so much the better. There's no finer way to shake off the lingering effects of cabin fever.