Ah, the season of promise! Is it any wonder we grow so impatient for it in March, when the final winter storms blanket the roads and snap trees beneath their weight? We step outside hoping to hear the songs of orioles and spring peepers and the bassoon rumble of frogs mating in the neighbor’s pond and, instead, are struck by a cold wind from the north and a rattling of sleet.
I remember a spring many years ago that arrived more slowly than most. It was 1979, the year 32 feet of snow fell on the Keweenaw Peninsula and a succession of blizzards swept across the U.S. and Canada, shutting down cities from the Rockies to the East Coast. I was a student at Northern Michigan University in Marquette and watched with astonishment as the temperature plummeted to 20 then 30 then 50 below zero, Lake Superior froze from shore to shore, and snow banks rose so high pedestrians could touch the telephone wires.
It was in a secret valley of cedars, and getting there required a long walk over ice-crusted snow with my unstrung fly rod in hand. When I reached the river, it was flowing high, dark and dangerous.
By April, everyone was eager for spring, but the wait became discouraging. I walked to school every day and noticed the buds on the trees and shrubs remained tight as fists. The snow settled to a few feet of dirty crust but would melt no further. The days stayed a cheerless 25 degrees, and the nights fell to the teens. The sky stayed dark and cloud-covered.
The last Saturday of the month, the opening day of trout season, I drove to a stretch of river I had discovered the previous summer. It was in a secret valley of cedars, and getting there required a long walk over ice-crusted snow with my unstrung fly rod in hand. When I reached the river, it was flowing high, dark and dangerous. I walked the bank, pretending to look for trout, but watching, in truth, for spring.
It arrived in the afternoon, when the clouds parted for a few minutes and an ice dam upstream burst, sending a knee-high wave of ice and slush surging toward me. The river rose 2 feet in five minutes and changed to the color of freshly stomped puddles. The sun broke free and birds began to sing. Hope surged through my veins, and I hurried to string up my fly rod, attach a bead-head nymph and roll some casts across the murky water. No trout showed themselves, but I didn’t expect them to. After a few minutes, the sun disappeared behind clouds, the birds went silent and my ears burned with cold again. But no matter — spring had arrived, with fanfare.
Reflections columnist Jerry Dennis writes from his home on a former cherry farm on Old Mission Peninsula near Traverse City.