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Spring comes grudgingly to the rumpled ridges and timbered valleys of the American West. But often it comes with a rush and a roar, a spate of warm days unlocking winter's relentless grip and sending torrents of smowmelt plunging down to turn rivers white with glacial till. And the beat of life, all but extinguished by the bitter ordeal just ended, begins to pulse once again.

Through shallow earth finally exposed to a warming sun and lengthening days, the first wildflowers reach upward to dance in the breeze and send their subtle scents to other creatures newly alive. A male ruffed grouse hops up on a hollow deadfall and sends out his drumroll call for a mate, his wings a butterfly blur as they thrum against the log. A boss tom turkey struts at the edge of the dark timber, shamelessly displaying his russet-feathered magnificence for the edification of the mountain's hen population.

Marching up the southfacing slopes are the ordered ranks of larch and Ponderosa pines, their twig-ends jaunty in new lime-green growth, contrasting nicely with the darker undercoats of previous years. In stands of hardwoods, leaf buds unfurl to present their own shades of green against indigo skies holding parades of snow-white cumulus clouds.

For most of the creatures of the high country, spring is a season of urgency, and a careful observer may be treated to vignettes of life that just don't occur in other seasons. Birds kite around frantically, seeking mates and nesting places. The pikas and ground squirrels scramble to gather grasses to line their rockpile birthing places.

And if the observer is patient and persistent, he or she may see spring's spawn, young of the year in their first tentative treks afield with the old folks. These icons of spring in the high country will delight you: a tiny black bear romping in a field of dandelions; a red-fox kit smelling a swaying black-eyed Susan as if he were a "people"; a pair of blacktail-deer fawns on a hilltop suckling; a loonlet, tiny black-and-white image of its mother, swimming in her wake on a mountain lake. Such scenes are the artwork of the season of renewal.

And what of us humans? What is our place in springtime's palette? Are our urbanized lifestyles and couch-potato tendencies taking us out of the picture, making us increasingly observers of, rather than participants in, life beyond the backyard? Making us less alive?

Perhaps the answer may be found in the eloquent words of nature writer Hal Borland, from his book, This Hill, This Valley:

"Ever since man first was aware of spring, he has stood at this season with awe in his eyes and wonder in his heart, sensing the magnificence of life returning and life renewed; and something deep within him has responded, whatever his religion or spiritual belief. It is as inevitable as sunrise that man should see the substance of faith and hope in the tangible world so obviously responding to forces beyond himself or his accumulated knowledge.

"For all his learning and sophistication, man still instinctively reaches toward that force beyond. . . . In every tuft of grass, in every bird, in every opening bud, there it is. . . .

"Spring is a result, not a cause. The cause lies beyond, still beyond; and it is this instinctive knowledge which inspires our festivals of faith and life and belief renewed, our Easters of whatever name."

Bill Rooney is AMERICAN FORESTS' editor, and Tim Christie is an outdoor writer and photographer living in Post Falls, Idaho.
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Title Annotation:spring flora and fauna in the American West
Author:Rooney, Bill
Publication:American Forests
Date:May 1, 1991
Previous Article:Fighting for the national forests.
Next Article:Leopold on wilderness.

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