Wes Davis yearned for spring in mid-February and wondered where the red-wings were.
The Janesville man checked the open field near his north-side Janesville home, but the blackbirds had not yet arrived.
For almost 40 years, Davis has anticipated their return on or about Feb. 15.
He finally saw the familiar songbirds dressed in glossy black feathers with red and yellow shoulder badges on Feb. 22.
“I was starting to get worried,” Davis said. “I was disappointed when they didn’t come early.”
Davis is a learned man with three college degrees. But watching for red-winged blackbirds is not a scientific pursuit.
Like so many winter-weary people, he finds solace in the birds because they signal the beginning of the end.
We might shovel more snow and shiver in our boots.
But once the red-wings are here, the march toward spring becomes a mighty gallop.
Soon, the males will sing their clamorous “conk-la-ree!” from high perches. They will bend forward, droop their wings, spread their tail feathers and fluff their bright shoulder patches.
Showing off their good looks, they will impress the females and try to keep as many as 15 mates happy.
Davis keeps a bevy of bird feeders in his yard, hoping to attract, as he says, “deep-woods denizens.”
“I should not have to travel to see birds,” he said. “They should travel to see me.”
He always has been a nature-loving guy. As a boy growing up on the edge of Edgerton, he often went fishing in Saunders Creek.
His friend kept a pet crow, and the bird sometimes rode on the handlebars of Davis’ bike.
Once, Davis found the crow’s stash in an oak tree. The smart bird had stowed away a small army of plastic toy soldiers, a $5 bill and a $1 bill, perhaps thinking they were things to eat.
As an adult, Davis taught for 36 years at Beloit Memorial High School. He carpooled with fellow teachers from Janesville each day and watched fence lines in late winter for bird or animal sightings.
Always, the first red-wing stirred in him the promise of spring.
In all, Davis has taught 47 years in local schools on a variety of subjects, including geography and earth and space science.
He currently teaches in the Janesville School District’s homebound program for students with medical conditions or behavioral challenges. He also serves on the Rock County Board and four of its committees.
Davis said he doesn’t have a lot of time to be outdoors.
Still, he looks forward to spring’s avalanche of “firsts.”
As of early last week, the first robins, killdeers and sandhill cranes were back in Rock County. Swans, resting during their long migration north, even paddled in a flooded farm field.
They are only the start.
Eventually, the first lowland chorus of frogs will begin slowly and build to a rousing crescendo. Then, the first buttery glare of a marsh marigold will bloom in the drab rubble of a spring creek. Later, the first warm softness will fill the air. Not just the teasing of a winter thaw, but a building thunder, until one day tree buds will swell and burst.
For those of us who spend long winters in Wisconsin, spring is a highly anticipated season.
Naturalist and writer Sigurd Olson said it best:
“To anyone who has spent a winter in the north and known the depths to which the snow can reach, known the weeks when the mercury stays below zero, the first hint of spring is a major event. You must live in the north to understand it. You cannot just come up for it as you might go to Florida for the sunshine and the surf. To appreciate it, you must wait for it a long time, hope and dream about it, and go through considerable enduring.”
Davis predicts winter will still get in a few good licks.
But from now on, each week will bring remarkable changes to our tiny corner of the planet.
In turn, each change will be an affirmation of new life and a reason for joy and wonder.
Anna Marie Lux is a Sunday columnist for The Gazette. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264, or email email@example.com.