It is snowing again here at Fish in a Barrel Pond. No, wait a second, it has turned to rain. Nope, now it is sleeting. We are caught in the middle of a battle between seasons and the incumbent seems to be holding its ground against the usurper. But winter can not stay forever and signs of its demise are beginning to appear.
Opening day is fast approaching and the members of the Neverwas Nonesuch Angling Society have been keeping me busy, making their reservations and answering their questions like, “When’s the ice going to be off the pond?”
I tell them that if I could predict things like that with any degree of certainty I sure as heck would not be here doing this. Deliveries of bed linens and towels, boat anchors and oars, lumber and paint need to be coordinated and a thousand other details need tending in order to be ready for them when they arrive. Some of the members are rather picky, always expecting things to be a certain way, and each member of the Neverwas Nonesuch Angling Society believes I work for him or her. You will meet some of my 100 bosses as the season progresses.
Meanwhile, time for myself is harder to come by these days and a tramp through the woods is a real treat.
In the snowy, shady hollows the light still seems blue and cold but there is activity where not long ago there was nothing but frigid silence. The foxes are out and about more these days, padding along on the decaying surface of old drifts.
Up on the hilltops, where there is more light and warmth, the first flowers of spring are blooming in all their primitive, unidentified, shrubby glory.
There are places on Nonesuch Mountain that never freeze and greenery exists all year long but they are only comfortable if you are a fern, a moss or perhaps a colony of algae.
A little bit of sun goes a long way as it makes its way back north and some creatures seem to be more like machines, unable to function below certain temperatures but completely helpless to not function above them. In the tiny microclimates of sun-warmed branches and bark, aphids, spiders and a host of other invertebrates go about their business, nodding off in a chill-induced torpor late each afternoon and picking up right where they left off as soon as their little thermostats kick in again the next day – or week, if the warm spell ends. It’s a long, cold walk home for anyone who falls from their perch.
To me they are more a sign of late winter, not early spring, but I always search for springtails when the air is warm. Also known as snow fleas, springtails are very small insects and when they gather in large numbers it looks like the snow has been sprinkled with pepper.
Springtails eat decaying organic matter and pose no threat to humans. The ‘flea’ in their nickname comes from their ability to propel themselves up to 100 times the length of their own bodies. You and I could never survive being flung several hundred feet so it is probably a good thing we are not forced to get around that way but springtails do it all the time, with the aid of a tail that acts like a … a spring. But not really. The appendage in question is rather stiff and folds up along the springtail’s abdomen where it locks into position. The pressure that allows this “tail” to “spring” is a form of hydrostatic pressure created when the springtail draws water into its abdomen in a process known as “sucking water up its butt.” When the springtail feels the need to flee, or just needs a change of scenery, it releases that pressure, the tail straightens out and, like a mouse trap placed upside-down, the springtail tumbles through the air in an apparently random direction.
I’ve watched springtails in action and it appears to me that one snow flea, springing with its tail, sets off a chain reaction of snow flea tail springing. One second there are hundreds of them. The next second there is a frenzy of butt water releasing and tail straightening and the second after that there is not a springtail to be found.
The signs of spring’s return, though still a bit feeble, are all around. A little caution is prudent, as a late, wintry blast can kill, but there are some things that must be done all at once, like pulling a band-aid. For example, each fall I grow a beard to keep me warm during the winter. This is what I managed this year:
And, just like that band-aid or the first day of the year without long-johns, this is the result of Quill Gordon’s annual April Fool’s Day Shaving Spectacular: