The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Outdoors

March 22, 2014

Reflecting on how I almost missed spring

CAMERON — After an absence of two weeks, I’m back. Because I heard from so many of you (thank you for the cards and e-mails), I thought an explanation was in order.

On the last day of February, I woke up feeling weak and sick. I thought I had a stomach virus. The next day (March 1), I felt worse, so my wife took me to the emergency room. It was determined I had a severely infected gall bladder. Two days later (March 3) my gall bladder was removed. My surgeon told me it was “dead.” He said it was good I came in when I did.

I came home on March 5 and have been recovering ever since. That meant lots of rest and virtually no outdoor activities except walking up and down the driveway. During that time we had several snows that limited my activity even more. Finally earlier this week, the sky turned blue and the thermometer reached 60 degrees. I stepped onto the porch and listened for signs of spring.

Because I have been relatively immobile, I relied mostly on my ears. The first sound I heard was a male eastern bluebird. Its subdued warble actually put a smile on my face. It was perched on a fence post not far from a nest box a female was inspecting. I expect the first eggs in about two weeks.

Then I heard the first eastern towhee of the year — “Drink your tea!” I hadn’t seen or heard a towhee since November. It had probably been around for a few days, but I hadn’t been outside to hear it.

Then I heard the loud triplet of a Carolina wren, “Tea kettle! Tea kettle! Tea kettle!” I was relieved to hear that it had survived the winter. Carolina wrens are usually my first nesters, so I checked two boxes located close to the house. Both had freshly built nests, and one actually contained two eggs.

When my wife saw me wandering around the yard, she warned me not to go too far. “You’re supposed to be taking it easy,” she reminded me.

I worked my way back to the porch and listened for another 30 minutes. I heard Carolina chickadees, tufted titmice, white-breasted nuthatches, song sparrows, and killdeer. At one point a flock of about 30 robins appeared in the yard, and I noticed patches of grass turning from brown to green. Male goldfinches showed evidence of molting into their bright yellow breeding plumage. And overhead two turkey vultures kited from west to east, probably in search of a road-killed deer.

As I took all this in, it occurred to me that I had almost missed the final transition from winter to spring. To truly enjoy and appreciate nature, we must experience it. It recharges the soul, and it actually made me feel better physically. The sights, sounds and smells of nature sharpen the senses.

Since my midafternoon break was such a success, I decided to step outside onto the porch again at sundown. I thought I might hear an owl or two. I guess I was pushing my luck; no owls that night. But I did hear a chorus of spring peepers, and some wood frogs quacked from a vernal pool below the house.

When I turned to go back into the house, I heard a familiar twittering sound from the sky. An American woodcock was completing its sky dance above the old field near the house. When he landed, he exclaimed, “Peent!” For two minutes he vocalized every 10 or 15 seconds, then he launched into another aerial display. And though I couldn’t see him in the darkness, I knew that when he landed, he fanned his tail and strutted about like a miniature turkey gobbler in full display. If there was a hen nearby, I’m sure it would be difficult to resist the charms of this displaying male.

I’m so grateful to have recovered in time to see spring arrive. It’s my favorite season, and now I remember why.

— Dr. Scott Shalaway can be heard 8 to 10 a.m. Saturdays on 1370 WVLY-AM (Wheeling) or online at

http://tunein.com/radio/WVLY-1370-s23555/. Visit Scott’s website, www.drshalawaycom, or contact him directly at

sshalaway@aol.com or 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV  26033.

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