It has begun!
I realized recently that it’s not the sights of spring that make me happiest. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the bursting buds, greening grass, or dancing daffodils. I do. But it’s the sounds that make my heart really sing in the spring.
It’s usually a chilly, gray morning sometime in March when I first hear “kronk-a-REEEEE!” I’ll look around in surprise, and there he will be, high in a tree—a red-winged blackbird. The males migrate first, I learned as a child. They start staking out territories as they wait for soon-to-arrive females. If you’re traveling the interstate, watch the grassy roadsides and you’ll see one male here on a fence post, and an eighth of a mile or so later, another one there in a small tree. And then another, and another. Roll down the window as you pass and you’ll hear them informing all passers-by of their territorial boundaries. “Kronk-a-REEEEE!”
As the mornings begin to brighten earlier, I notice a sound upon waking that’s difficult to hear, muffled by still-closed windows. But robins are persistent and loud, and their early morning voices penetrate glass. “Cheerio-cheerio-cheep-a-cheep-cheerio…” (Later in the season, the robins and other birds will create an impossible-to-ignore 4 a.m. cacophony.) Robins may be the most well-known herald of spring in our latitude, but my bird expert friends tell me some robins stick around all winter, foraging for berries in wandering flocks which stay mostly hidden from human view.
Thunder is a spring sound, too. I think of it as mostly an evening and nighttime sound. It may seem fanciful, but I’m convinced I can feel thunder well before it can actually be heard. Stormy spring evenings just seem to vibrate long before they rumble and flash. Of course, thunder is eventually accompanied by the racket of rain and wind, too. And you really know it’s a doozy of a spring storm when hail clatters against the windows and roof.
When spring storms leave ponds in patches of woodland and edges of fields, another bunch of critters makes themselves heard. The first time I hear them each year, it stops me in my tracks in delight. “Spring peepers!” I will exclaim out loud, even if I am alone. (I probably look a little bit batty when I do this.) For a creature about as big around as a quarter, a spring peeper can make an enormous noise. Its call is a piercingly high-pitched “preep, preep, preep,” but I’ve almost never heard just one at a time. Spring peepers are a species of chorus frog, thus they sing in deafening gangs. Stand near a swampy spot in early April, and the peepers will make your eardrums throb. Move too quickly or loudly, however, and they all fall silent.
Later in spring, when it’s warm enough to leave a bedroom window open overnight, yet another animal makes its presence known. Yipping and yowling, coyotes call across the open fields. After lifting my head from the pillow to confirm that our two dogs are, in fact, safely in the house, I relax and listen until the coyote concert ends. While I know many a 4-H poultry project comes to an untimely end in the jaws of these pesky predators, I can’t help but enjoy their wild, brief serenade.
Open-window, dry spring days bring another auditory treat I treasure. Caused by neither a creature nor a weather phenomenon, this sound nevertheless seems to belong to the natural landscape of northern Illinois. It’s the sound of a distant tractor as it pulls a planter across the field. When the weather is right, the hum of planting continues through the day and into the night, when I fall asleep listening to the sound of another growing season beginning.