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Spring breathes new life

Essay and photos by Debi Nelson

Geese frolic in North Dakota watersStanding on the dock at dawn, my hands wrapped around a steaming cup of coffee, I am content, yet also in anticipation.

I know the pale light will give way to a striking sunrise this clear morning. The air is crisp with the last chill of winter, but also has a hint of warmth. As the colors in the sky deepen, I see a yellow glow appear on the horizon. Then, the glow becomes a ball of fire which rises higher as the birds, loons and geese erupt into song welcoming the new day. They are likely thankful, too, for spring has arrived, with its longer, warmer days. I smile as sunbeams land on my upturned face.

One early morning, as I was sitting in the living room of the cabin, I saw a large, dark shadow in a tree at the edge of the lake. At first, I thought it was just a group of branches and leaves. Then, I saw the turn of a head, the sun illuminating a golden beak – a bald eagle! It was probably watching the lake below for some breakfast. Looking closer, I saw white head and tail feathers, and knew it must be at least 4-5 years old.

Hiking in the Turtle Mountains last year, I heard a screech above. Craning my neck as I got closer to a known eagle nest, I hoped to spot this majestic raptor. Suddenly, several northern harrier hawks came into view, weaving and diving, flying low toward me and then shooting upward. They likely had a nest quite close and were trying to lead me away. There were no eagles in the nest that year.

I also love watching Canadian geese in the spring. Whether they are in the park or on the lake, their gracefulness and antics are a delight. Finding a nesting goose can be difficult, as she likes to sit amongst the brush of a lakeshore, hidden from predators. A child actually pointed one out to me. Mother goose was impressive by her size and the number of eggs she tried to sit on – not all of them fitting under her body. As I was creeping closer for a better look, she turned her head slightly to watch my every move and stretched her long neck and hissed if she thought I was too close!

Fawns are my favorite animal babies to spot in the spring. The same doe beds down by our cabin each year, so the trail cam captures her belly growing each spring. In June, I usually see a fawn lying in the long grass. One spring, walking around the lake, I saw one just a few weeks old. Its huge brown eyes barely blinked as it lay motionless. Only its tummy was seen moving up and down. A month later, I surprised a fawn as I rounded the corner of the cabin. It was raining and the fawn stood, looking at me, dripping with rain water. It seemed quite curious, and stood there quite awhile, allowing me to photograph its image with droplets clinging to its spotted coat.

Sliding the canoe in the water for the first time in the spring is also a thrill. Seeing waterfowl from the lake, while gently rocking with the waves, is peaceful. White seagulls are striking against the blue sky or when perched on logs sticking out of the water. When we saw a small flock of them sitting on a branch stretched across the water, we inched the canoe closer. As we enjoyed the warm sun on our faces, they likely enjoyed it warming their plump, feathered bodies. They clearly didn’t want to be disturbed so one by one, they lifted off, but not before I was able to snap a photo with six of them.

Many of us anxiously await the arrival of colorful birds in the spring. The American goldfinches are one of my favorite. The only time I appreciate thistles in my yard is when I remember the goldfinch will use the tiny prickly barbs on the soft part of the thistle to make their nests. These same tiny pieces are also retrieved by the parents to feed their young. Speaking of tiny, did you know the hummingbird uses the silk-like thread of spider webs to build their nests in the spring? Sometimes the things we think are problems, like thistles and spider webs, serve several purposes that we appreciate!

When the lake is deep, some ice will still be on the lake in the deep areas, even when the rest of the lake is rippling with warmed water. When canoeing in the spring, one needs to make sure to stay clear of the ice, as it could damage the canoe. I can always count on a pair of turtles coming out on a log to see what the noise is as we pass by. Then, they quickly plop back into the water. If I walk quietly down the trail to the lake, I sometimes am able to see them sunning themselves. I’m sure it feels good for them to raise their body temperature after it plummeted during the winter months.

Spring starts a new year in the woods and on the lake! Consider sharing a North Dakota spring with a child. Be that adult that Rachel Carson mentioned in a quote I once came across: “If a child is to keep his inborn sense of wonder, he needs companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.”

Debi Nelson is a freelance writer from Minot. She and her husband, Dean, are members of North Central Electric Cooperative. You can see more of her writing at her website,