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Tracking spring from a car window

05/19/04 12:00AM By Ted Levin
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(Host) The signs of spring have been unfolding rapidly around us, and commentator Ted Levin has been an eager observer.

(Levin) I love the slow, drawn out advance of early spring, the weeks before lushness, when noticeable changes occur one or two at a time, beginning with the rise of maple sap and ending with the arrival of Neotropical migrants. The first warm rainy night in April ushers frogs and salamanders to woodland pools. Then come the robins, their voices echoing across our front yard. And the industrious phoebe, visiting the barn overhang in search of a potential nest site. Tree swallows and bluebirds inspect the nest boxes, then disappear. And, eventually, the elfin song of the winter wren rises like a piccolo from still leafless woods, while a thousand feet above the pasture a red-shoulder hawk sketches his amorous intentions across the morning sky.

Based on the blooming and leafing dates, scientists have determined that spring moves north at an average rate of fifteen miles a day. You can just keep pace with it, if you drive slowly north from Key West, Florida to Thetford. It's an activity that appeals to my sense of continuity and rhythm and appreciation of the vast East Coast of America.

The writer Edwin Way Teale tracked the spring of 1947, traveling 17,000 miles from the Everglades to the delta marshes of the Piedmont, to the Great Smoky Mountains and the Blue Ridge, on to Cape Cod and across the folds of Vermont and New Hampshire. Teale was on the road five months, and spent the next four years transcribing his notes into "North With the Spring," the first of his four-part Pulitzer Prize-winning journey across the American seasons.

Anyone who has driven south over spring break can relate to Teale's thrill at the power of the transforming season.

Several weeks ago, my family and I left the wood frogs and robins of Thetford - daffodils were still in bud - and drove south to my in-laws' farm in Middleburg, Virginia. The trip was an exercise in observation and a reminder that spring, keeping to its own schedule, really does move north at a snail's pace. Red maples were in bloom and skunk cabbage was leafy by Connecticut. By Delaware jack-in-the-pulpit and spring beauty peppered the forest floor.

Middleburg wore a hundred shades of green, each leaf as tiny as a mouse's ear, punctuated by the blooms of dogwood and red bud, which were everywhere and bright. Tulips had wilted. Forsythia had gone by. Black snakes were sunning and fox kits played in front of back-pasture burrows.

Of course, on the return trip Spring seemed to reverse itself: leaves pulling back into trees and shoots back into the earth as we hurried home.

This is Ted Levin from Coyote Hollow in Thetford Center.

Ted Levin is a writer and photographer and winner of the 2004 Burroughs Medal for Nature Writing. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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