Here, at our home located in the northwest corner of the state, a pair of wood ducks has joined the mallards that flew onto our pond in early March. Each morning, the birds splash down sometime shortly after dawn, flying off at the first sign of human activity. Restless after their winter slumber, ladybugs roam along the inside of our windows. Chipmunks now peek from the tops of rock walls that are scattered about our property. They scurry afield, returning to their tunnels with a welcome morsel, cheeks full of seed gathered from under a bird feeder or perhaps a flower from the tulip tree that towers over our barn.
The skies are changeable as are the temperatures. Early in April, winter clings to the evenings, but slowly, intermittently, warmer weather returns, claiming the afternoons, until mid-month, when temperatures swing from the high forties to the low seventies and everywhere in between.
Forsythia and lilac are beginning to bud, the former flowering yellow, the latter waiting for May to grace the air with its sweet-smelling bouquets. Daffodils have sprung up along the edges of Trish’s gardens. With the first warm days of the month, their yellow flowers are spreading spring’s cheer, tulips soon to follow. The purple flowers of a single Japanese Azalea bloom upon the bush’s naked branches, its leaves not yet formed. Around the pond and in the swamp, the mottled tips of swamp cabbage have forced their way through the damp soil. In the vegetable garden, chives spring back to life and the ruffled tips of rhubarb struggle to break through the soft earth.
Phoebes, the first migratory birds of spring, rejoin the chickadees, titmice, and finches, all of whom have remained at our feeders while weathering snow, ice, and freezing rain. These flycatchers perch upon wire and post, tails bobbing, their eyes focused on the ground, eager to swoop down and grab the first of the season’s awakening insects. By the second week of the month, a pair has taken up residence in a nest constructed of twigs held together with mud. The nest was built a number of years ago under the eave of the lean-to attached to our barn where the birds have raised successive generations, most years having two broods.
A flock of robins joins the phoebes, stutter-stepping across the lawn, their heads turned to the side, eyes staring toward the damp grass as they search for earthworms.
Standing on our back porch, the early morning skies reverberate with the sound of bird song. White-throated sparrows call for “Mr. Peabody, Peabody, Peabody” while mourning doves murmur a somber refrain. From a row of low-growing bushes, cardinals sing out “cheer, cheer, cheer,” while red-winged blackbirds add their raspy notes to the robins’ familiar song, and if I listen carefully, there is the gentlest of all melodies, that of the bluebird.
Chickadees call out to one another, titmice complaining about the new arrivals, and nuthatches grunting their agreement. At the same time, throngs of finches threaten to drown out all the others with their ceaseless chatter while now and then, above the raucous din, can be heard the rat-tat-tat of a woodpecker echoing through the adjacent woodlot.
As if in celebration of the new season, this avian chorus rolls up from the lower fields and sweeps down out of the hardwood trees, washing over us from first light through early afternoon.
While cleaning out last-year’s nesting material from the birdhouses we’ve nailed to posts around the twelve acres surrounding our house, I was forced to evict a deer mouse. Having been rudely awakened from its mid-afternoon siesta, the cheeky rodent scrambled to the ground, none the worse for the scare. In another nesting box, this one made in Germany using burnt clay and sawdust, a flying squirrel popped its head out of the hole before I could remove the top. Although indignant at being disturbed during such an early hour, it accepted my apologies as I slowly backed away.
Most years, I’ll have spent a few afternoons during the last two weeks of March casting my flies along the banks of Bonnie Brook, but the trout remain sullen, rarely interested in a fly cast upon the steam’s surface. By April, they are beginning to look upward, having awakened from their semi-dormant state, willing to rise to a hatching bug or a hook wound with a bit of fur or fluff if drifted with skill.
In early April, black stoneflies crawl along streamside foliage, their gray wings easily blending in with the drab bark of trees. These aquatic bugs crawl out of their watery homes, leaving inanimate skins on the sides of rocks as they emerge with new wings folded flat along their backs. By late afternoon, the females return to the stream. Like tiny helicopters they hover over the water. If the temperature is warm enough, fish will slash at a black- or gray-colored pattern with swept-back wings, especially if twitched to imitate the actions of these insects as they skitter across the surface to lay their eggs.
Beginning with Paraleptophlebia adoptive, a hearty, dun-colored insect imitated by anglers with a pattern called a Blue Quill, a succession of mayflies will hatch as the month progresses.
After rising en masse from the stream’s bottom, the nymphs of these mayflies will emerge through the surface film where they molt into duns that will float for a time upon the current where they look like so many tiny yachts, their gossamer wings tacking with the breeze. Those that survive the inevitable onslaught of the trout flutter upward where phoebes and swallows will take their share. After a second molt, the adults will return to the stream to mate, after which the females will lay their eggs before falling to the surface, their life coming to an end within hours of first emerging from the stream’s bottom. All of this silently played out under dark and rain-threatening skies for which the month is known.
As April progresses, two other mayflies will hatch from the streambed in much the same way. They are imitated by flies known to anglers as Quill Gordons and Hendricksons, patterns named after sporting legends who once fished rivers running through the Catskill mountains of New York State, only a few hours north of Bonnie Brook.
I often wonder that if more of us spent time along the bank of a stream or in a field of wildflowers there would be less strife in the world. If only we could appreciate those simple gifts found just outside our door, we might be more willing to set aside our prejudices, less inclined to dredge up old grievances, make war. Judging from the lines of a poem penned by the great English romantic poet, William Wordsworth, he might have agreed with this sentiment.
I heard a thousand blended notes
While in a grove I sate reclined,
In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to mind…
To her fair works did Nature link
The human soul that through me ran;
And much it grieved my heart to think
What man has made of man.
Nevertheless, there is something satisfying in casting a fly first created by my fellow brothers of the angle, knowing that each spring I’ll follow in a long tradition of men and women who have found momentary sanctuary from a troubled world whether it be wading up a trout stream, tramping along a woodland trail, or perhaps, simply standing upon their porch and listening to the birds.