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Nature’s Best By Elma Chapman - Spring


Friday was a beautiful day for a late winter hike. The sky was bright blue, something we’ve been missing here in the last few weeks, and the snow was white. Some people have been complaining about the March snow, but remember the unprecedented 80s last March and the agricultural disaster that ensued? The price of apples skyrocketed, if you could even find them at the markets. I’ll take a few snowy days in March anytime! And I’ve seen more snowmen in the last two weeks than I’ve seen in the last two years. It’s good to see people outside enjoying the weather.

The hike we did was on the border between Allen and Dekalb counties, in the McNabb-Walter Preserve, one of 82 preserves administered by Acres Land Trust. We started at 9 a.m., so the snow was still crunchy. So crunchy in fact that it was difficult to break through the crust and then underneath was softer snow, all of which made walking a little more challenging than usual, although it was a very flat, easy trail we followed. We walked along a bluff above Fisher Creek which was hurrying on down to join the St. Joseph River.

Along the way we saw what was left of a sugar shack that had been blown down quite a while ago. It was interesting to find the dilapidated remains and wonder about who had made maple syrup there years ago. Speaking of maple syrup, don’t forget about Maple Syrup Days at Maple Wood Nature Center right here in LaGrange County this weekend, March 16 and 17. Not just pancakes and syrup, syrup-making demonstrations, and pure maple syrup for sale, but also marionette shows, rides through the woods in horse-drawn wagons, maple cotton candy, and more.

One of the interesting things we saw was how some individual leaves had melted into the snow. Since they were brown they absorbed heat while the snow’s whiteness reflected the sun, so the leaf melted into the snow an inch or more and left a perfect outline in the crust of the snow. We also found lots of tracks, not only deer, squirrels and rabbits, but also a large bird. My first thought was that it might have been one of the sandhill cranes I’ve seen recently, but comparing the tracks to the identification card I have, it seems that a wild turkey was probably a more likely guess. Didn’t see the bird, just his tracks.

Some of the hikers had been hoping to see the first wildflowers on this hike, but last week’s snow changed their expectations. However, some people from Ft. Wayne said that the skunk cabbage was already pushing up through the snow. On Sylvan Lake in Rome City, the naturalists at the Gene Stratton-Porter State Historic Site are seeing common goldeneye and redheads, among other waterfowl. The lake closest to me is still ice covered as I write, but I have seen some red-winged blackbirds, another sure sign of spring. So spring is creeping northward and there will be delightful changes in the next few weeks.

If you can’t wait for the warmup, you can fool Mother Nature a bit. I cut off a branch from my forsythia bush and brought it inside and put it in water. It took about a week and a half for the branch to acclimate to the indoors and start to bud out, but now I have pretty yellow flowers on my table.

See you at Maple Syrup Days!