Spring has sprung, that thought crossed my mind as I typed April on this week’s column. Wow, we are finally loosening winter’s cold grip and walking into the warm sunlight of spring. The world is aglow in the green carpet covering the hills, flowers are starting to emerge from the soil and the trees are full of blossoms. All is new and good.
For several weeks I have watched for the signs of spring and finally I have started to see them. Was it the return of the robins that told me spring was near? No, not really. How about the buds on the fruit trees? No, in fact, I am pretty sure that brings on a freeze. Maybe it was the geese flying south. Wrong again, I live by a lake and they fly back and forth all the time. OK, what about the greening of the grass? Nope, but it is a reminder that I need to get my lawn mower fixed.
I know all of those are classical signs that spring has sprung, but the signs I am looking for are much closer to home. For instance, I know that spring is in the air when I drive by a neighbor’s house and I see their chore clothes hung out on the line to dry. No self-respecting livestock owner would dare wash their chore clothes until winter and calving season are truly over. What would happen if you washed your coveralls, they had not dried and say a winter storm blew in while a heifer was calving? Coveralls on the clothes line is the most solid sign of spring one can find in rural America.
Another sure sign of springtime in cattle country is the absence of shaving cream on grocery store shelves. Yes, warmer weather means itchy calving season beards. Haircuts and shaving is now again in vogue. As the teens would say, the shaggy, haggard, disheveled look of calving season is so last winter. This also coincides with clogged sink drains, hair on the counter and dirty looks from your wife. Shaving a beard off is tough and there is collateral damage.
Finally, the best indicator of spring in the Flint Hills is the orange glow in the evening sky and the faint (or more than faint) smell of smoke on the evening air. Nothing says spring like a good pasture burning. Evidence of this can be seen in the black landscape or the sooty four wheeler with a water tank in the back of any rancher’s pickup on main street. Seeing big cedar trees going up in flames like giant torches is one of the best signs of spring I know.
So let’s say you are in a small town in the Flint Hills and you are talking to a passing traveler at the local café. You make mention that all the signs point to the fact that winter is finally behind us and spring is surely here. They will probably guess that your statement was made because of your keen awareness of the natural world around you and the observations you have made came while communing with nature each day.
They will wonder if it is the distant gobble of the turkey, the daffodils peaking through the warm, moist soil or the robin hunting for a meal of earth worms. They might even suspect that you know this because of the sun’s position in the sky or the length of sunlight during the day. The unsuspecting city slicker might even say it is just a feeling that every farmer and rancher gets deep down in their bones and is passed along generation to generation.
Just smile and look at them sagely with a nod and a wink. After all, you know something they don’t; you are one step ahead of the game. We all know that country folks don’t rely on birds, plants or even the sun to announce the changing of the seasons. We are much savvier than that. Little do they know that the surest sign of spring is closer than they might think.
The sign that the long cold winter is finally past and spring has arrived is closer than they might think. The surest sign of spring is a mere two tables down. It would be the farmer or rancher enjoying his ice tea, eating lunch sporting clean chore clothes, a fresh shave, and a new haircut and smelling faintly of smoke. That, is the best sign of spring I know.