This happened before, but I didn’t report it because a fellow tends to become self-conscious of such things. It’s a sensual-emotional experience you set aside and keep to yourself — until one day you just have to tell someone about it because otherwise your heart might explode.
And so on Easter Sunday, it happened again. Spring overwhelmed me. It surrounded me like a squadron of herons. It pulled at me in the current. It plunged its flowered branches into my soul.
I was on Deer Creek again, in Darlington, Harford County, to see if the shad were running upstream from the big river, the Susquehanna. I do this every April, and every April, it happens: Spring just takes over. It rules me. It casts aside my mission there — to catch shad — and declares dominion over me.
I look up and a bald eagle owns the sky above me. Or in the next hour an osprey comes along, smaller than the eagle, but still a member of the ruling class of birds.
The sky is bluebird blue, and so are the bluebirds. On the drive to the creek, I see them fluttering across a farm field. I see cardinals in the greening trees. I see wildflowers and new pasture grass, water splashing down a cascade of rocks through the woods.
And the air is clean and cool near the river on a spring morning. You can almost sense a mild mist in the hours after sunrise and that, in part, accounts for the refreshing air. Coming from your climate controlled home, coming from the inside of a car, it’s like stepping into the world reborn, fresh and raw.
And then, you look down into the rushing water, off to the side in the slack, and, as the rising sun illuminates the rocks and gravel, you see them — hundreds of herring just arrived from the Atlantic. They swim in packs. They seem to play with each other, wriggling and darting around rocks, pointed upstream, then idling for a bit before they finish their long journey.
The great blue heron, looking like its winged ancestor from the Triassic period, lands on a rock in the middle of the creek and waits there until the herring swim by. In an instant, the heron will grab one with its long bill and, stretching its neck, gobble the herring down its gullet. I’ve stood and watched that from 20 yards away. I’ve seen six and seven heron at a time — one April, in another river, up to 20 of them — as they dined on herring and sometimes the smaller of the migrating hickory shad.
You stand there, without a human sound anywhere — no lawn mower, no car engine, no chattering children or loud conversation among hikers on the trail above the river — and it’s like some primal moment from the annals of the earth, with nothing but birds singing, river flowing.
If you land a shad or herring and hold it for a moment in your hands, you smell the ocean. You sense the Atlantic’s blood in the freshwater of Deer Creek. You are at some long-ago place, and it’s overwhelming, almost too much for someone from 21st Century life to bear.
Am I reassured by all this? Do I suddenly feel the world has a chance against climate change, against all the pressures of the human epoch? Do I believe that nature’s resilience is the most powerful force on Earth?
I want to, but I am not reassured by the spring. Even in my overwhelmed state, even drenched in the birth waters of April, I am not reassured.
I come to the creek with too much information. I read newspaper and magazine stories about how the planet’s climate is changing, about the ice melts, about sea-level rise and drought. I take comfort in the actions of the Maryland legislature to arrest the amount of greenhouse gasses we produce here. But the nation is still obsessed with burning fossil fuels, spoiled by the access to gasoline, even as the price rises. Too much of the political class placates, it does not lead with reason and resolve.
And we have in Eastern Europe, a criminal running a nation with nuclear weapons and ordering the destruction of another nation and the murder of civilians. How am I reassured by spring, by shad and heron? How can I stand here, knee deep in Deer Creek, and reconcile this feeling in my heart with the facts in my head, the horrors in Ukraine inflicted by Russia? How can anyone anywhere experience an April like this and order ballistic missiles into the air?
Please forgive the invasion of reality on these reveries.
I appear to be expressing faith in nature and little faith in humans. But what I mean to do is something more than that: To share the awesome feeling of feeling overwhelmed by spring’s extraordinary bust-out as a way to remind all of us — including those who never give it a damn thought — that there’s still time. Still time to savor the spring, and still time to save it for your children and grandchildren.