Every early spring, I remember why I live in South Dakota. There’s nothing like Spring in Little Town. We aren’t quite there yet, but I see the signs.
Little Town is on the river, and this morning, just after dawn, I took the dogs outside and HEARD spring. Two grackles chittered, bickering over a squirrel’s nest from last year. This year’s squirrels sat in the walnut tree, scolding the dogs. And then, from below the bluff, a chorus of honking, distant at first then louder and louder, until moments later three huge V’s of geese, and a dozen or more stragglers, flew overhead. While I was watching the geese, half a dozen pelicans, far above the low-flying geese, ambled from east to west, their white wings lit up in the early morning sun. Behind me, woodpeckers tapped at suet blocks, while goldfinches crowded our feeders, reminding me that the buffet needs restocking.
There’s something here about the SMELL of spring, too. Winter dulls the senses, covers up smells in its snow blanket or locks them in ice. But spring! The first smell is dirt, that rich top layer of humus defrosting as the snow melts. Then, the bouquet of smells on the wind, up from the river valley: water, dirt, cold, green, buds, animals, farmland.
Another sure sign of spring is shorts. When the temperatures start drifting into the 40s, then 50s, the students at Little Town U don their shorts. They wear them with boots, socks, hoodies, jackets, sometimes even parkas. My legs would turn some horrid shade of blue, but their young, high-metabolic flesh, their stubborn nose-thumb to winter, is a welcome (and pretty funny) promise of spring.
All over town, people are coming out, buzzing like bees just out of their hives. We walk dogs, clean around the edges of gardens still too frozen or muddy to work, take down bicycles from their winter garage hooks, head to the car wash, hike the bike path along the river, jog around town. And at our feet, through the greys and browns of winter lawns, sparse patches of grass hint at the explosion of greens to come. Cabin fever melts into euphoria—we’re stretching and shaking off winter’s semi-hibernation.
I’m not sure how people manage without seasons. For me, summer is time to do play and do MY work; fall is back to school; winter is time for retreat & reflect; and spring is time for renewal & rebirth. Every spring in South Dakota is for me a time to re-create—a new garden, the yard, our little village, myself.
A friend once said we like South Dakota seasons, especially winter, because it keeps out the riff raff.
Maybe our friend is right; South Dakota is #46 for population density in the U.S. But we’re also #17 in land area, which means those few of us who make this our home have loads of room to roam, and to dig, listen, watch, smell. From my backyard, I can see across the river into Nebraska. Yes, winter means shoveling, white-outs, blizzard warnings, icy sidewalks. But spring is like childbirth—once you hold those miraculous daffodils in your hands, you forget winter’s long labor.