This morning you smell the sweet tang of leaf burst, the ground littered with the sticky bud casings of cottonwood trees, now shimmering lime green with new leaves. The casings cover the ground, cling to the dangling catkins of the mountain ash, leave resin scented with sunshine on your clothes. And too, they stick on the new green shoots of the leafy spurge, promise of a scourge of yellow weeds soon spread through the forest floor.
Pterodactyl shapes weave in and out among the treetop rookeries perched high in the cottonwood grove. Looking overhead you see the stretch of long necks, the spread of grey blue wings as the brooding herons shift, rearrange cramped legs, turn the eggs with saber beaks and settle once again. Head raised, you nearly stumble over scraps of longhaired hide scattered in the grass. You find yourself standing in a deer shaped bed of sheared hair and red-specked bones.
Eurasian collared doves coo from their perches in the Ponderosas. “Who-who, who-who, who-who will be my mate?” The flash of their white tipped tails remind you of the flags of startled deer as they bolt for cover. You work your way around the massive root ball and clamber over the trunk of a newly downed cottonwood. The shallow rooted trees are no match for the spring storms that race through this valley.
In the muddy bottom of a channel where spring run-off seeps into remembered pathways through the river bottom, you see the prints of coyote. Last night you heard the wild cacophony, exuberant howling and the high-pitched yips of rambunctious pups. Searching for more prints you find instead a great scatter of feathers under a small tree. No flesh, no bones, only the discards of a hawk’s feast. There, amidst the fluffy down and dove grey wings are the long tail feathers tipped in white.
Beneath the heron nests, fertilized by the white splatters from above you find a vibrant patch of yellow where, first flowers of spring, the buttercups bloom, sending out their runners in all directions. And there, in the dappled sunshine of blossoms, a patch of sky blue, broken eggshells of herons that will never hatch, a careless scatter from the rearranging of the incubating eggs above.
A raven explodes from it’s nest, haranguing the hawk who has flown too close, cawing relentlessly as it chases the raptor through the treetops, even as the redtail circles back around toward the unprotected chicks. The raven slices across the sky, heads off the hawk, who circles back the other way. Around and around they go until at last the hawk perches in the top of a cottonwood snag across the meadow, watching, waiting. And the raven returns warily to its nest, watching, waiting.
The woods are coming back to life, back to death, endlessly cycling through the lengthening days.