April – Awful or Awesome?

‘April is the cruelest month.’

Thus wrote TS Eliot, and many a Cape Bretoner would agree, choosing this time to travel off the island. But I love April. Well, I kind of love it. I certainly wouldn’t want to miss it. Because April is the month of transformation. It is a month of many firsts but also many lasts. April in Cape Breton is not quite winter anymore but it is not yet spring. It is the time of transition, when there is something new every day. Beginnings and endings – sometimes all in one day.

I was snowshoeing along the riverbank in mid-April and saw an eagle soaring and circling overhead. She (or he) alit atop a lone white pine, high up on a cliff above the river, carrying a stick in her talon. It was the same tree where I’d seen a pair of eagles mating the year before. (I think I was more excited than she was!) Was she building a nest? And me without my binos. (An admission that, while I like to watch and identify birds, I am not a bona fide birdwatcher).

Two days later I returned, binos in hand. But what a change. There were bare patches here, slushy snow there, and other places with deep snow going ‘rotten’. I kept breaking through – a sure sign that snowshoe season is over. Time to admit it and put the snowshoes away. Still, I made my awkward way to the river’s edge. No eagle in sight and from my vantage point far below I still couldn’t tell if the pine bough was supporting a nest. I’d risked a twisted ankle for nothing. But no. Because a cluster of coltsfoot was growing out of the bank across the river. So the last snowshoe and the first flowers, all in an afternoon. From Awkward to Awesome – that’s April all over.

April is Amazing. Every year I marvel as I watch the Albedo effect in action. One morning I looked out the window and saw a snowy slope with a few bare patches around the trees. The next day – literally – I looked out the same window and saw a bare slope with a few snowy patches. I wrote about this runaway process in April and the Albedo Effect. It happens on land, speeding up the snow melt, and on the pond, speeding up the ice melt as the darker water absorbs more heat that the snowy ice.

April is the sound of rushing water. Highland snowmelt roars down cascading waterfalls and turns tame rivers into raging torrents. Water fills freshets and swells brooks that babble down the hillsides. Water pours into L’il Pond, over the ice and the snowy banks, lifting and encircling the ice as I described last month in The Colours of Winter. I love to hear the sound of rushing water because it is the sound of life. Life returning, life reviving, life renewing.

This year the transition was amazingly abrupt. One day I was snowshoeing all around the edge of the frozen pond, up and down over the hummocks of ice-covered bushes. Two days later the spot where I was standing when I took the photo on the right was under water. Three days later everywhere I’d been that day was under water and only a thin slab of floating ice remained. That process here is natural and normal, but it’s a reminder of just how quickly things can change when they pass a certain tipping point.

But the melt reveals the not-so-awesome aspect of April. That beautiful white blanket of snow is whisked away, revealing all the messiness beneath. Broken branches, old stumps and rotting logs, bare bramble bushes. The colours are drab: the greys and browns of bare trees and shrubs, of dead grass strewn with dead leaves and dead weeds. Only the dark green conifers, bright green mosses, and red maple buds add colour to the landscape.

Until … I actually yelped with delight when I stepped outside one day and saw the bright sunny faces of coltsfoot below the house, early bloomers that were immediately visited by the first bees. And while April may look unappealing to my eye, those rotting logs and stumps and leaf litter are actually nature’s nurseries for emerging life.

April is the time of Arrival. I see the first dark-eyed juncos and the first robin redbreast. The first birds fill the air with the first bird songs. As I sing in my Spring Ditty, ‘some ducks dabble and some ducks dive, but it means it’s spring when the ducks arrive.‘ And arrive they do, as soon as there is open water on the pond. I looked out one morning last week and saw a pair of goldeneye ducks diving and a pair of black ducks dabbling around in the submerged bushes. The male goldeneye was wooing his partner with courtship displays. Love is in the air in April.

Some animals head south for the winter and return in spring, but other just slumber the winter months away. For them, April is the time of Awakening. Squirrels never sleep (or so it seems) but hibernating chipmunks come out from down under and scamper around. Frogs that were literally frozen are thawing out. I heard a few tentative wood frogs the other evening, and the spring peepers are never far behind. (For more on frozen frogs and how Froggy goes a-courting, check out Funky Frogs.)

So April is Audible. After the deep silence of winter, the sounds of spring begin to fill the air. The roar of rushing water, the first bird songs and first frog calls, the first buzzing bees in search of the first flowers.

April is the month after the Vernal Equinox in March, the official start of spring. But it is the month before spring really arrives in Cape Breton. We won’t be going green until Mid-May, when the trees will leaf and many more wildflowers will burst into bloom. May is when we hear fishing boats in the bay as lobster season gets underway, and the shops that were shuttered will open as we emerge from our winter hibernation. But that is May. Not now, not yet.

So April is the month of Anticipation. This time of transition, of melting snow and vanishing ice, of budding trees and pussy willows, marks the end of one season and the beginning of another. April isn’t quite spring in Cape Breton, but it is the promise of spring. And I’d say that’s pretty awesome.

Sue McKay Miller
April 30, 2023

p.s. I posted this Spring Ditty in April 2021 with photos and a bit of commentary, but I’m tucking it in here because it really sums up April in the Holler. I sing it every year – with gusto!

Spring Ditty

Dark-eyed juncos jumping all around
picking up tidbits off the ground.
Red-breasted robin sings a cheerful song
and winter’s snow
is almost gone.
And it feels like spring is coming to the Holler
Don’t you think that we should sing and holler?

Well the other night I heard a little frog peep.
No one replied so he went back to sleep.
But the ice is melting and it won’t be long
’til that froggy pond
is filled with song.
And it feels like spring is coming to the Holler
Don’t you think that we should sing and holler?

Well hey there buddy budding on a tree,
thanks for the things that you do for me.
And to every little shoot and every little sprout
I’m so glad
that you’re coming out.
And it feels like spring is coming to the Holler
Don’t you think that we should sing and holler?

Well some ducks dabble and some ducks dive
but it feels like spring when the ducks arrive.
And the snow melt grows the pond into a lake
as the sleepy Holler
starts to awake.
And it feels like spring is coming to the Holler
Don’t you think that we should sing and holler?
Don’t you think that we should scream and holler?

Maple flowers in April.

1 thought on “April – Awful or Awesome?

  1. Lovely as always and I was trying to remember the name of that thawing around trees: albedo. We noticed it also around gravestones in the many graveyards on Crocus Bluff in Dawson. No coltsfoot yet, no wild crocuses, but they’ll be popping up soon. Thanks for this Spring report from CB.

    Liked by 1 person

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