Here in Nova Scotia, spring rain drips from grey sky, shrinking snow patches in our yard, woods, and meadows. On a morning walk, I noticed pussy willows brushing air with silvery softness, and black-capped chickadees foraging in roadside alders and birches. A trio of downy woodpeckers whinnied and flitted from tree to tree, and skunk footprints muddied crusty snow.
Last spring, for ten days in late May and early June, I visited my family’s home farm in Alberta, trading Maritime lushness for expansive prairie edged by an alkaline lake and dotted with sloughs. The lilac hedge my mother planted decades ago around her yard was in full blossom, a spring sight classic to many Canadian prairie farms.
In the farmyard, I found territorial house wrens, cedar waxwings, and gophers (Richardson’s ground squirrels), the last peering cautiously at me from the edge of their burrows before squeaking a warning whistle and diving to safety belowground.
Each day, I ran prairie roads and walked past freshly planted crops to the white alkali edge of Lake Thomas. Swainson’s hawks circled overhead, perhaps hunting gophers. Western meadowlarks voiced clear, melodic songs, and savannah and clay-coloured sparrows lisped out buzzing calls. Mallards and Canada geese waddled through pasture and stubble, and Hungarian partridges flushed from cover, exploding into flight.
Muskrats swam in the mouth of a stream emptying into the lake. American avocets, willets, marbled godwits, and Wilson’s phalaropes waded and foraged in the lake shallows. Horned grebes and an assortment of waterfowl (pintails, redheads, blue-winged teal, lesser scaups, buffleheads, northern shovelers, goldeneyes, gadwalls) floated offshore and eyed me warily.
The sweet-tangy scent of new balsam poplar leaves drifted on the wind. Saskatoon bushes had already formed small fruits. Blossoms covered chokecherry shrubs, and I found blooming chickweed and lousewort among the fresh green and dead brown of prairie grasses. The big sky stretched seemingly forever, a brilliant blue bowl arched over the gently rolling hills and swales of the prairie.