An invitation to spring, by Lon Emerick

There has always been one day each spring that epitomizes the season for me, one special day in which the forces emerge in a unique essence of change and a new beginning.
Today, May 10, is such a day. It is 8:00 a.m., and I am standing on the shore of McKeever Lake in the Hiawatha National Forest waiting for the participants in a nature walk I will lead.
A long time ago, a favorite professor of mine used this elegant phrase to describe a similar spring day: “Everything is a verb in May.” The urgency of the new season is unmistakable. Nature seems to realize that time is very short in the North Country and that much of the colorful bounty must unfold swiftly. Every hour of sunshine is precious. There is no time to linger.
McKeever Lake is glistening in the slanting rays of the morning sun and the hills on the far shore are aglow with forty shades of delicate spring green. The fragrance of thousands of opening tree buds perfume the air. The earth is warming and the musty pungence of leaf mold drifts upward at every step. A hermit thrush offers an impromptu concert in a thicket by the parking lot.
“We live such a rich existence in this Superior Peninsula,” I muse aloud.
The peaceful moment is shattered as a silver SUV careens into the parking area and screeches to a halt. Two women adorned in brightly-colored fleece jackets emerge from the vehicle and hurry up to me. Without any preamble, the driver (I learn later her name is Doris) pulls a rectangular object from her pocket and punches several buttons in rapid succession.
Holding the yellow-rimmed display screen up close to my face, she announces triumphantly, “We are right here!”
Alas, I come unglued. Repressing an impulse to grab the GPS and toss it in the lake, I launch into a rant:
“No!” I shout, “We are not ‘right there’ on the GPS, we are right here.”
Somewhat forcefully, I herd the two women down to the shoreline.
“Look, listen, smell,” I command. “See the mist rising near Ewing Point; smell the woods coming to life; listen to that thrush sing his wondrous melody. Be here, in this real place, not on the map.”
As the rest of the hikers arrive, my rant winds down. Doris and her friend Elaine (and the new GPS), edge away from the agitated group leader. Now I am chagrined by my uncharacteristic out-of-control behavior.
Even as I greet the other participants and suggest we all leave our cares at the trailhead before sauntering into the beautiful spring morning, I am still brooding about the GPS incident.
Why, I wonder, do we impose technological devices between ourselves and the natural world? We are already well on the way to being separated from the earth by brick and macadam—and now there is a relentless march of electronic wizardry substituting for reality. Am I just getting old and crotchety?
To be sure, a Global Positioning Device is a useful tool. My two forest ranger daughters always carry a GPS when they roam the wilderness of Montana and Alaska performing their duties. I am comforted to know that they possess such a device. However, it seems to me that most recreational explorers use the GPS as a novel toy.
A few steps into the forest and, as it always does, Alma Nature wraps her soothing arms around the leader and nine participants. It is the height of the annual migration and birds are everywhere.
A flight of warblers, tiny bits of yellow, red and orange, flit all about us feeding on blackflies and mosquitoes. Nashvilles, Canadas and redstarts seem to display their ephemeral charms just for us.
Wildflowers—trillium, adders tongue, bloodroot—carpet the forest floor. We stand quietly in a copse of tall hemlocks, totally in the moment, eyes, ears, nose, even taste buds alert, savoring the rich sensations. There is no need for conversation, not even identifying flowers or ferns—that will come later. Now we are mesmerized by the May morning.
In a state of grace, we wander over to McKeever Cabin, a rustic log structure that the Forest Service rents to hikers, skiers and hunters for a nominal fee. We sit on the porch and each person shares what he or she has heard or seen. Then, as if on some cosmic cue, we are treated to a musical coda.
Close beside the cabin, we hear it: the clear pensive song of a white-throated sparrow.
“Old Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody,” he seems to chant with a rising, slightly quavering whistle. The song is pure and clear, like a cup of icy well water or a breeze from Lake Superior.
I can tell that no one wants to leave, but we all have promises to keep; reluctantly, we retrace our steps to the parking area. Near where the path comes close to the lake, a loon calls. We stop and try to spot the bird and it calls again, a more urgent tremolo.
Then one of the hikers pulls out a cell phone, quickly dials a number and says, “Listen to this, Julia,” while extending the phone toward the calling loon. Apparently Doris sees something foreboding in my body language and moves close to where I am standing.
She speaks softly: “Forgive him, leader Emerick, for he knows not what he is doing.”
—Lon Emerick

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