Sunday, March 27, 2011

A Spring Junket

Our neighbor kids spent the afternoon here today.  Since it was a balmy 40F out, they decided to take a walk around the neighboring fields to pay a first spring visit to all their favorite haunts.  Since the pasture surface is a mix of snow, ice, water, mud and tufts of grass, deciding how to dress for the occasion was a bit of a challenge.

Finally most of the kids decided upon winter wear, complete with snowpants and boots, gloves, hats and coats.  But in case they got dry, they also took several water bottles.

Elsie and Holly chose the eastern route, toward the north end of Kimball's woods and what has sometimes been called The Beach.  (More on that later.)  On the way there, the girls had to traverse an area of mostly frozen slough.  When we had our warm days a few weeks ago, a large amount of snow melted and left a very large area of standing water which since has frozen solid.  Because of the warm temperature again today, the edges were starting to melt and break apart.  But for the hardy souls who brave the initial dash, the ensuing ice field is a wealth of fun.  Perfect for sliding and falling and occasionally breaking through.

Clara, Stella, John, and our neighbor Matt went south to the fort they call Mosquito Coverage.  The name is from long ago, I think Jeremy came up with it.  He had names for all his favorite places, but most have fallen out of use.  This one, however, has remained Mosquito Coverage.  It's straight south of our house, past the edge of the hayfield and into the corner of CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) land in this section.  Mosquito Coverage is a little hillock, formerly, I think, a pile of rocks that has filled in with dirt and grass and the oddments of farm cast-offs such as rolls of barbed wire, old fence posts and the remains of tree branches and roots.  In this land that is largely without visual landmarks, this little hillock makes a destination of mystery and adventure.  This time of year, although the top of the bushes is showing above the melted snow, there is still quite a large drift along the north side.

Mosquito Coverage is about 1/4 mile south of the house. It is the first "fort" to which our youngest children are allowed to adventure, since we can see it clearly out our front window.

I was supposed to have the neighbor kids home at 4:00, so as the hour neared I was keeping an eye out for the various explorers, watching for their return home.  Elsie and Holly returned home in good time and even had 1/2 hour to spare.  But I could see neither hide nor hair of the younger set.  I had seen them near the fort just a little while earlier.  Holly and Elsie had seen the others while they were walking home.  But now that they needed to be heading in, the younger group had disappeared.   Joe got out his field glasses and surveyed the area.  No children.

Joe then got out his Mossberg 500 12 guage, and fired two shots safely at the ground. We've trained the older kids to listen for shots when they are out and about.  It is supposed to mean, "It's time to come in."  I started out several years ago with a referee whistle, but the sound doesn't carry far enough.  Each year as the snow melts and the kids are once again able to gad about the neighborhood, we review all the roaming rules so that each group of kids learns the rules for the newer freedoms they enjoy as they grow older.  But I didn't mention any rules to the kids today.   Bad Mom!

As 4:00 approached and we still didn't see the younger kids anywhere, Joe went out driving around the SW corner of the section.  Because of the flat land and the open spaces, we can usually see most everything, so it was just a bit unnerving when he returned and hadn't seen them at all.  By the time he came back, I was dressed for walking.  It was a nice day, and I knew they had to be somewhere.  As we were debating which direction I should start out, we spied them in the periphery of the woods southeast of us.  Louisa wanted a little walk too, so she came along to direct me around the worst of the slough.

By the time Louisa and I got out to the pasture, the kids were heading out of the woods toward The Beach.  This is a little manmade rise next to a cow pond.  In this part of Minnesota, since our water table is pretty high, a cattle rancher will dig a pit in the pasture and put the dirt off to the side, making a slight rise.  The pit fills in and, voila, a watering pond.  This particular pond is, thankfully, not deep.  The cattle are confined elsewhere during the winter months.  So in the spring, when the world is fresh and new, my girls have been known to sunbathe on the south facing slope of the rise.  And yes, they have even on occasion sneaked swimming suits under their clothes, and frisked around a bit in the pond.   Hence the name, "The Beach."

When Louisa and I got near the other kids, we soon realized that we were separated from them by the partially frozen slough.  Louisa, being only a bit more than half my weight, was able to get across the ice without getting her feet too wet.  I stayed safely on the dry tussocks of grass, well away from the deeper portions of the wetland.  (Chicken!)  Louisa called the other kids over and continued on across to help Stella, who was too afraid of falling through to make any significant progress.  The other, older kids were fearless.  They ran and slid and crashed their way over to me.  Mostly it was frozen and they slid along making good time.  But Clara had one good break through which caught her off balance and sent her front side first into the icy brew.  She got up laughing and hooting about how fun it was.

As we gradually made our way home, I was struck by the realization that spring had come.  It may have been a mere 40 degrees out.  The snowcover was still at about 30%.  The ice was thick enough that the kids mostly walked across just fine.  But even so, spring is here.  The kids were having a blast.  They were outside without huddling into their scarves at each breath.  Some were even carrying their hats and gloves.  I had on only a hooded sweatshirt and boots.  Most of the kids were wearing snowpants that dripped with icy water.  And yet they were warm.  We were all warm.

Spring has come to northern Minnesota once again.

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