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Spring Symphony

The solitude and silence of the frozen sub-arctic winter sets the mind to thinking and the sharpens the senses. Without being conscious of it, nature directs one's attention to the search for spring. It is as if the world were awakening from a long hibernation.

In February one becomes aware that the days are longer and the sun gets a little higher in the sky, but appreciation of the impending re-birth of nature awaits the return of sound. The first grumblings of spring come as low-pitched, almost imperceptible, rumblings as ice caves in to growing stresses.

Against a  background of what sound like very distant thunder, a crescendo reminiscent of an approaching jet plane, is heard. Actually, the frequency is so low it almost seems to be felt before being heard. It is like the throb of a distant ship approaching. This phenomenon occurs only when the air is dead still, and you find yourself holding your breath to be sure you are actually hearing a sound. As the crescendo builds you look to see if it could be something more familiar, like an airplane. Then you realize that, in fact, it was a crack forming in the river ice; probably originating miles away and rapidly approaching your area. While  the rumbling is now almost constant, the crescendos occur at irregular intervals about every few minutes during the height of activity.

In winter any sound that you did not cause yourself is cause for curiosity, if not alarm. The sound that resembles a rifle-shot is not a threat; it is simply the splitting of a tree whose sap has frozen beyond the tolerance of the wood. The cracking of the ice awakens the senses, and you begin to hear other sounds of Nature's stirring. Water drops from icicles into little puddles, and tiny rivulets begin to tinkle on their way to the river. So much for the percussion section of spring's symphony.

Next come the voices of the woodwinds, trees creaking as they stretch to meet a warmer southern breeze. The crunch of winter snow as it succumbs to the pressure of your footstep. Geese and ducks begin to interrupt your quiet reverie with their raucous competition for mates. Toward sunset the distant hoot of an owl is heard; probably striking terror into the hearts of the little ground animals that just want to scurry around for something to eat,..... and to be left alone by all their predators.

Next come the songbirds, joining the chorus one at a time. The chickadee seems to have a different song in late winter, and it joins the "birdy, birdy, birdy" of the cardinals. Soon the redwing black birds chime in and the finches welcome everyone back, strong greeting for the "snowbirds" among us. You know it is quiet when the drumming of a pileated woodpecker on a hollow tree causes and ECHO!

I look at photos of spring, and I sense something is missing. The pictures are two-dimensional; the sound of the spring symphony add a third dimension, and bring the photos to life. I have presented some pictures here, and hope that your imagination will add the music.

By Richard L. Withington, Round Island



Dr. Richard (Dick) L.  Withington is a retired Orthopedic Surgeon, living out a childhood dream spending his fifth consecutive winter alone at the head of Round  Island. His wife Roseanne heads to Florida when "Rivercroft" is closed in October and Dick moves into the former servants' quarters, "Wintercroft".     Dr. Withington has an airboat which he keeps at  his own dock in winter ready to help. The Sheriff's office will call him directly if and when there is a problem. 

Dick’s first article for TI Life, A Winter Islander, was published in January 2009.  To see all of Dick’s island experiences search TI Life under Richard L. Withington.  Kim Lunman, writer and publisher of “Island Life” a print magazine presented his profile in TI Life entitled The Doctor is in, February 2012.

Posted in: Nature
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Cary & Janet Brick
Comment by: Cary & Janet Brick ( )
Left at: 10:43 PM Sunday, April 14, 2013
Thank you, Dick, for a beautiful Springtime snapshot from Round Island. You help make Clayton a very special place.
Mike Brick
Comment by: Mike Brick ( )
Left at: 8:10 AM Monday, April 15, 2013
My brother forwarded me the link to your very beautiful article. I spent many years on Round Island when we were in our High School years visiting the Powers place not to far from where you live now. I believe back in the 50's your place was owned by the Cain's from PA. Ironic how we went to High School together and now you are close friends with my brother.

Mike Brick
WHS Class of '58
Comment by: Sue ( )
Left at: 1:38 PM Monday, April 15, 2013
We had the opportunity to go out to Papoose one time many years ago when the last if the ice was flowing downstream. I'll never forget the sound of "hissing" as it rubbed against itself on the slow trip past Clayton. Or Stub poling through the ice chunks until we reached open water again.
Nancy Del Borgo
Comment by: Nancy Del Borgo ( )
Left at: 4:36 PM Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Nice piece, Dick. I see the trombone and piano lessons had some permanent effect. We'll be home Mother's Day.
Comment by: marilyn ( )
Left at: 3:55 PM Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Where Oh Where could you ever experience the peace and joy of this glorious symphony except thru the metaphorical pen of Dr. Withington and his beautiful river island photos.
Can't wait to return to hear the river's summer symphony!