Thirty-one years ago to the week, I wrote an essay that was published in a long-forgotten weekly paper named the Packerland News.
I called the piece “Signs of Spring” and it began something like this; “Stillness falls over the river valley these days. Cold, crisp mornings remind us that winter lingers on, yet signs of spring are all around.” And it ended with; “Once again, the cycle repeats itself. Regardless of world affairs, nature keeps its timetable as usual and never disappoints.”
The year was 1980 and the Green Bay Packers posted a 5–10–1 record under Coach Bart Starr, first-class stamps cost 15 cents, the federal debt was only $909 billion, the median household income was $17,710 and the nation was shocked when gas prices rose above $1.00 per gallon for the first time ever. I was making $14,000 a year working for a nearby village and taking night freelance writing classes from instructor Donna Sanders.
Nature will undoubtedly keep its timetable again this time around the sun and believe it or not, signs of spring are everywhere – if you look and listen hard enough. Skunks have emerged from their winter naps, taking Leopold-like “straight across-country treks, like they’ve hitched their wagons to a star and dropped the reins.” In fact, they are waddling across the snow covered landscape as we speak, looking for probable mates. The main channel of the big river is wide open, while fishermen enjoy the last of their winter season, jigging through backwater ice. The neighborhood flock of snow buntings still linger, but will head north just about the time our backyard male cardinals belt out their first spring “cheer, cheer, cheer, what, what, what, what” calls - marking out individual territories with song. Perhaps you have already heard your backyard cardinals singing. Surprisingly, ours have been quiet, but I expect them to erupt any day.
The arrival of our migrant birds, returning from their winter grounds to the south is a few weeks off. Reports from friends down south put woodcock in Missouri and northwest Ohio. Sandhill cranes have been spotted in southern reaches of Michigan. Once again, the cycle repeats itself.
This year, the Packers brought home the national title, first-class stamps are now labeled “forever”, the federal debt is projected to climb to $15 trillion, gas has risen to $3.30 per gallon with no end in sight – and I am still freelancing.
Thirty-some years ago Mrs. Sanders handed out her business card at my night class and wanted to hear from her students – should we get published. Later that year my essay was published, but alas, I don’t believe I let her know.
With any luck, she’s still around and reads my column. And along with you and me, rejoices at signs of spring.
Ken M. Blomberg is a freelance writer and longtime resident of the Town of Eau Pleine, northeast of Junction City. A 1976 graduate of UWSP in Resource Management, he is currently Executive Director of the Wisconsin Rural Water Association.