I’ve always enjoyed Edwin Way Teale’s four-volume, continent-wide survey of the American seasons, especially the first book, North With the Spring. I reexamined the book recently and got motivated for some hiking, with the goal of finding signs of the approaching season.
Teale’s adventures began with a mid-February 1940s drive from New Jersey to the southernmost part of Florida where he and his wife began a naturalists’ investigation of the imminent spring season. They followed spring’s ebb and flow, advancing northward at an average rate of 15 miles per day, to the point where the season climaxed at the Summer Solstice in northernmost New Hampshire. For the lover of spring, the book is a fascinating scientific narrative , and it moved me again to celebrate the new month of March with a good long ramble.
Teale experienced what a lot of northerners in the winter of 2013-2014 were feeling when it came to the weather. The season had been long and harsh. By late February it seemed as though the northern hemisphere was simply stuck “on the ridge of winter.” With cabin fever setting in, one simply had to move. On the eve of March, I saw a robin and heard its agitated notes, the first of its kind in more than three months. I was ready to discover more, and ready to come off the ridge.
I wanted to investigate the highest stretch of the Allegheny River in northern Pennsylvania with a walk long overdue. I didn’t have great expectations for discovering signs of spring because they’re slow to come to the deep woods when the land is overlaid with snow and ice. And it was only March 1st. The actual commencement of spring was still weeks away. True to form, I didn’t see much on the 7-mile walk, other than a strengthening of sunlight through the clouds, a bit of excitement in the antics of wintering birds, and a promising color in the plants along the spring seeps of icy headwaters.
The hardest part of the climb along the ancient rail bed was to peer down on the trout stream and acknowledge that there wouldn’t be any fishing for a while. With the air temperature rising above the freezing point for the first time in a week or two, I couldn’t help but dream of future outings with the fly rod. My reality check came with knowing that the forecasters were predicting sub-zero temperatures for the next few nights, if not longer.
The best part of the hike was following fresh bobcat tracks in the snow. I found them near the start and kept them in sight for the entire climb, excepting a few occasions where the cat ventured off trail to hunt along the stream before returning shortly after. Whereas the cat had hunted here for survival only minutes or hours before, I was hunting for something that a predator had no use for.
At one point I stopped where the bobcat had revisited a previous kill. The feathers and skin parts of a ruffed grouse lay scattered on the snow. I imagined the hunter thinking something along the lines of, “Umm, good. I could use another bird like that. Maybe up ahead…” Before I reached the summit where the great river has its source, I flushed several live grouse from their cover and wondered how the cat might stalk one for its meal.
Where the stream passes through a culvert underneath the trail, I found an open pool and looked unsuccessfully for trout. I was close to the summit and thought the pool might be the highest fishable water in a river system reaching from the New York/Pennsylvania border to the Gulf of Mexico. I’d have to wait a while before testing it. Perhaps spring was hiding in the pool, like a brook trout or a frog.