Spring won’t be official for another week. But seasons come and go as they please, paying little heed to our almanacs and calendars. Early some years, late others. Only occasionally do they conform close enough to our scheduled timeframe—but when they do, our egos allow us to fool ourselves into thinking we’re in charge.
This year spring came early — in spite of what, to me, seemed a too-little, too-late February attempt at acting like winter. Such belated weather shenanigans are impossible to take seriously when the signs point otherwise.
Like the throngs of red-breasted robins who’ve been scratching about the cottage for weeks. Or the cheery crocus that have for been spattering the yard in white, yellow and purple clumps for some time.
I now see turkey vultures almost daily, tilting and soaring in the blue sky above the river’s wooded corridor. The first of their black-robed clan were spotted soon after February began — at least a month early, as they typically don’t reappear hereabouts until mid-March.
Then there’s the resident groundhog, who normally catches his long winter nap deep in a snug burrow on the south-facing driveway hillside. He was awake and about before his namesake day, and has since been making regular foraging sorties between his hole’s freshly-excavated front entrance and the compost pile.
Seasonal signs and portents are indeed everywhere.
On a balmy, 70-degree day last week, I saw a queen snake sunning itself atop the riverside deck’s warm wooden rail. It’s gotta be spring when you see a cold-blooded snake!
The fuzzy, silvery-gray pussy willow buds — catkins — are already swollen and shimmering on the plant’s slender branches.
And fellow pancake aficionados should rejoice to know local sugar maples have been producing sweet sap for weeks, insuring an unabated — though, alas, pricy — continued supply of delicious syrup.
These are simply a few of dozens of natural indicators pointing to an early spring — evidence that things are on the fast track season-wise.
But for those of you who need more, here’s one you can sink your teeth into … literally! I’m talking bullheads. Catfish. Those ugly, tasty, early-stirring denizens of area streams and lakes whose willingness to bite before most other panfish species serves as harbinger to another year’s fishing.
A platter of fresh-caught spring bullheads, dusted with seasoned cornmeal, fried up steamy-fragrant and golden-brown, and served on heaping platters along with hush-puppies and some zippy homemade coleslaw, is piscatorial proof positive that another spring has unequivocally arrived.
You can’t argue with a fish supper!
Moreover it’s near impossible to understate how important — and how much fun! — heading off to your favorite bullhead hole and actually catching a mess of fish can be, after enduring winter’s forced hiatus. Spring bullheads are an unbeatable tonic for reviving a devitalized angler.
Yet Ohio’s spring bullhead season always seems to catch me by surprise, getting underway earlier than I anticipate. And this year proved no exception.
In spite of noticing all the signs of an early spring, and regardless of the fact last week’s initial bullhead foray on the Stillwater was probably my earliest such expedition ever, I’m still pretty sure I missed the initial action by a couple of weeks. Late to the party again!
Finding an ample supply of redworms for bait did prove a bit of a chore. In keeping with my plebeian approach, I always like to dig my own. But the first driftpile I checked produced nothing, nor did the second. I finally had to excavate a fair crater in the middle of a giant mound of leaves and stream-born debris before finding sufficient worms.
The bullheads, however, seemed ready and waiting for my wiggly wares — I had an interested taker noodling my initial offering within a minute of making the first cast.
Just that easily, another season’s fishing fun began. …
Bullheading happens to be one of the activities I rely on to help celebrate the return of another Buckeye spring. There are also wildflower junkets, birding trips, and certain swamps and marshes, bogs, fens, and hill-country hollows I like to visit. Touchstone places, stuff I’ve been doing regularly for so long it has now taken on the importance of personal tradition.
Sure, spring would still unfold without such engagements, but they’re covenants I like to keep. Promises I make to the wind and sky and land — my way of giving thanks for again being blessed by making it back to witness spring’s resurrecting cycle as it begins anew.
Jim McGuire, a nature columnist, resides in Englewood, and can be reached at [email protected]