It’s the shortest season here in the North. We’ve had snow and cold, freeze warnings in the mornings, and then it’s spring. All around plants, birds, animals are emerging. The ground is littered with leaves, pine needles, twigs, and branches. The trees are budded so there is no shade over the garden. But if you get down to ground level and look closely there are signs of spring. The trillium are up above the dead leaves and some of the other wildflowers are poking their shoots and leaves up. These ferns are about eight inches tall now but they will be hip height in a matter of a week. The fernheads are wrapped tightly in a ball but they will unfurl and spread their own shade over the ground below. And quickly the temperatures will rise, the humidity will increase, the lightning will crack and the thunder will roll, and spring will have passed to summer.
The darkness of winter is giving way to the lightness of spring. The warmer temperatures have brought new sprouts and new leaves. Everywhere there’s an undercurrent of blossoming and coming forth. The birds are back and singing with glee, the grasses are greening and growing, and the plants that were hidden throughout the winter are reemerging above ground. The serviceberry trees in the yard are blossoming and bringing their lightness to our world. They are delicate and small but their brightness is welcome. We watched a recent light rainfall cause each blossom to dip down as the rain droplets touched it, reminding me of a piano being tenderly played — pulling each note’s sound out with the light touch of fingers.
Last week we made a trip to Pattison State Park in northwestern Wisconsin, just south of Superior. Our winter snow has melted, we’ve had many days of rainfall, and I knew the waterfalls would be rushing…and we were not disappointed. Big Manitou Falls drops 165 feet, giving it the designation of the highest waterfall in Wisconsin and the fourth highest east of the Rocky Mountains. It is the flowage of the Black River that continues on to Lake Superior.
The falls gets its name from the Ojibwa who called it “Gitchee Manido (or Manitou)” meaning “Falls of the Great Spirit.” The darker root-beer color of the water comes from the tannic acid of decaying leaves and roots of vegetation along the river. Native American Indians were in this area for centuries and these falls were a well-known landmark and gathering place for the Chippewa. Copper mining was done by the Native Americans and later by European-Americans after 1845.
The state park is named for Martin Pattison who was a prominent miner and lumberman. In 1917 he heard of a plan to build a power dam on the Black River that would have eliminated the Big Falls. He purchased 660 acres of land along the river and then donated the land to the state in 1918.
Big Manitou Falls has a thundering roar as it cascades down the gorge. We explored the numerous views near the top, including the large overlook deck that is seen in the upper left hand corner of my photo. Then we found ourselves following the south-side trail that goes through the gorge to the bottom along the river. From here you can look up and truly appreciate the depth of the falls and the power of that volume of water.
For photographers that are reading this, I made images of the falls with varying shutter speeds. The slow shutter images softened the water to a “beautiful and dreamy” flow but I didn’t feel those images truly reflected the power and the turbulence that the river held the day we were there.
Spring in the upper Midwest is a roller coaster ride – sun and warmth one day followed by cold winds and snow the next. We have our ups and downs. But we also know that spring, and eventually summer, will prevail. Until then we surround ourselves with the hopes and colors of springtime.
I bought some tulips at the store recently to help brighten the day. Their pale colors were lovely and they reminded me of the delicateness of spring with a whisper of pale pink throughout the petals. The blooms were tight when I first brought them home, but they slowly opened up. As they got larger their weight caused them to bend forward, sometimes falling one against another. The lightness and support of these two tulips struck me as the definition of softness.
We’ve enjoyed days of blue sky and sunshine. Our temperatures have soared into the 40s and 50s and we were so very optimistic for spring. Even the grass was showing, and snow was only found in small mounds on protected north sides.
And then it snowed yesterday. Spring was delayed another time. Today I found these trees standing tall on a hill in our monotone winter landscape, their branches still bare but triumphant. They know that spring will come. The grass beneath their trunks will be green again. The sky above their outstretched arms will be a brilliant shade of blue. And their branches will burst out with a full coverage of green leaves. Not today, but soon.