An Earlier Spring

Before kids, in early spring my husband and I trekked north of north for a weekend fishing trip. North from our home in St Paul, Minnesota to the north shore of Lake Superior. This meant leaving behind the warmer days of a long awaited spring, to take advantage of the Steelhead run. With each mile traveled north, we turned back the seasonal clock, to before. Before the buds opened on bare branches, before the fuzzy grasses were green. We pulled on our waders and carried our rods down the banks of the Baptism and Temperance Rivers to angle for fish, making the trip upstream to spawn. For us, time was tightly wound to be metered out without a thought of running out.  We cast our lines in to what we thought would be an ideal spot, working out the tangles and snags. If nothing was biting, we tried a new lure, a different knot, and moved on to the next stream.

Later, when there were five of us, we made the same trip. Not to fish, but for family time at a lodge on Lake Superior. Off season rates in early May made it a perfect Mother’s Day gift.  Sometimes I rode in the back with the kids, preoccupied with snacks and travel games, hardly noticing the changes outside the window as we passed from south to north. My mind was on getting there, ticking off the distance traveled by the familiar landmarks rushing past. The Lift Bridge, Gooseberry Falls, Split Rock Lighthouse. This time we swam in an indoor pool, ate pancakes in the Lodge’s dining room, hiked the trail on the Poplar River, found the first Snowdrops blooming next to winter’s snow.

And remembered the early spring visits of before, the first trip up Oberg Mountain with our baby in the front pack, and another sitting on the beach with all three kids draped around me, now a treasured photo on my desk.

Again we make the trip. It’s just the two of us. We travel to our northern place, a cabin on Lake Superior. I know the trip will set me back a couple of weeks in spring-time when I watch the green recede with each mile we travel north. But I am happy to go back to an earlier spring.  I know how short lived it is. Looking out the car window gives me a chance to notice where the softest of greens poke out their new blades, where the dogwood wears soft feathers and the birch hatch lacey leaves.

It has become a Mother’s Day tradition now, my husband and I plant trees on our land.  To offer replacements for the old growth that have fallen and to reintroduce the hardwood residents to their neighbors, the softer aspen and fir. We want a variety of trees to thrive here, to ensure the health and longevity of our forest. It seems a small thing to do, dwarfed by the seasonal process of growth and death that happens naturally. 

We pick up seedlings from the county garage, ordered last winter from a list of native species that do well in a northern forest. We work together. Unbundle wisps of white and red pine, spiky hemlock and sticks of dogwood, carry them in buckets of water to protect their roots. My husband makes a slot, with a spade shovel, I insert the seedling upright, tuck in its trailing roots, pour in a slosh of water, and tamp down the soil with my boot. We do it over and over, again and again, until the bucket is empty.

Afterward, we are tired and muddy, but walk the property to tag the new plantings, recognizing the saplings from years past. We spray the tips with an odor the deer won’t like, tie bright tape around the tiny twigs and trust that a few will grow up as their neighbors have done. Our acres have a few of these elders, white pines that are 100 years old, that tower above the swaying aspen and birch.  We do this with the knowledge that we will not see their full maturity, we are here only to nurture their growth.  We will tend our forest as long as we are able, with the patience and care of devoted grandparents who celebrate the arrival of spring, with hope and wonder.

3 thoughts on “An Earlier Spring

  1. Debra, it’s wonderful to take your words in fully, on the “page” (I think I *heard* this on our last retreat). This essay is so beautiful and evocative. And those photos! I especially love the black and white of you with your children.


  2. What a beautiful Mother’s Day tradition! This post, like so many of yours, contains the sweep of your family history. You are both matriarch and historian. My husband and I loved to fish as well, and your early trips up north, just you and your husband, brought back so many great memories. For us, fishing was our place of calm, a kind of intimacy unlike any other. Every season of our lives adds another layer of memory to be cherished.


  3. I so appreciate people like you and Phil who quietly take action to ensure the beauty of the earth. Thank you, Deb, for sharing this tradition through your beautiful words and photos.


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