A Solitary Walker: We are owed nothing, but spring comes anyway

A gray birch bent over by heavy spring snow.

A gray birch bent over by heavy spring snow. Micki Colbeck photographs

Micki Colbeck. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Micki Colbeck. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Snowdrops blooming in early spring

Snowdrops blooming in early spring


For the Valley News

Published: 04-12-2024 6:25 PM

The dogs and I walk out along the West Branch of the Ompompanoosuc every morning through hayfields and riparian forests. A few days ago, I felt like yelling, “Wake up, wake up,” at every living thing. It looked like the snow might really be gone. Shiny green mosses were lifting themselves up from rotting logs, red basswood buds were swelling, evergreen ferns were thinking about stretching out.

I felt a surge of happiness to see the robins, like cows five feet apart, all heading downwind, grazing across the field pecking at worms and bugs. I laughed at a group of chickadees flirtatiously hopping through the alder shrubs, and at sturdy little song sparrows filling every empty space along the river with a song ending in a warble that reminds me of bouncing on a diving board. I stood in awe at the white, black and red male plumage of a pair of common mergansers bobbing downriver, then flying upriver, over and over again. Tiny red furry hairs were beginning to peek out of the ends of a couple of female catkins of Corylus cornuta — beaked hazelnuts, one of the earliest flowers to bloom.

The next morning, however, quiet, deep wet snow fell, arching branches into delicate sculptures, like gymnasts showing off flexibility and form. My grey birch, which bends to the ground at every heavy snow, then pops right up again when I give it a shake, calls to mind Robert Frost and his boys riding birches.

The heavy snow reminds me of the dangers of expectations, for we are owed nothing, especially not by the weather. My morning practice is to try to be more like my LBDs — little brown dogs — and sniff along as a sensual being, not thinking, nor judging. I try to empty my mind and let the colors and sounds flow in. I am rarely successful.

I read that neuroscientists are studying whether the population that has grown up with the internet may have functionally different brains than those who came before. The hypothesis is that when faced with a question or problem, the post-internet population will search for data, and the older population will attempt to use memory, logic and real-life observations. This, over time, may be changing the way the brain is wired. It sounds right, however, my generation, which grew up without the internet, has gladly adapted to just looking things up online, especially driving directions.

My daughter, who has two little ones, and I were talking about the importance of kids playing together and exploring outside. I was rambling on about smartphones and children, bullying and comparisons on social media, and how young girls are hurting themselves. My daughter reminded me of when she was young and many of her friends’ houses had televisions on in multiple rooms — TVs that were left on throughout the day as background noise for living. I observed the same in Eastern Europe, and in a few houses here, mostly where sports addicts control the remote.

My mom needed to have a radio on. She could only go to sleep with the night host on KMOX, our AM station, talking softly and playing tender jazz standards. When record players first became affordable, houses were filled with jazz and classical music to soften the blows of life.

I wonder, at what point does technology change from balm to toxin. When I see AI generated images of people, I am repulsed by their perfectness. Lips too full, eyes too big, skin too smooth. Where are the flaws? Where is the human vulnerability?

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Perhaps the pendulum might swing with the Millennials. I can imagine these young parents standing up against social media and protecting their little ones. In the meantime, let’s all go play in the woods, read a book, work on a puzzle and call a friend.

Micki Colbeck is a naturalist and writer and chair of the Strafford Conservation Commission. Write to her at mjcolbeck@gmail.com.