The Herald

By Jake Forrest Lunsford

In late February, the Northwoods are cloaked in snowy silence. A patchwork of white lies over the forests, cedar boughs and pine needles protruding like shoddy stitch-work from the heavy quilt of winter. Daggers of ice hang from the occasional red oak or maple, threatening the soil against Spring’s usurpation. Tree limbs, deprived of sap and covered in rime, crackle under the many shifting feet of a host of crows, murder on the wing. 

Dwindling now are the fat stores and cached nutriment hoarded away in better times. The weak lie down in eternal sleep, and the weakening are grateful for their going, hungrily consuming the browse left behind. It is a holding-on time of famine and desperation.

But living things do thrive in the quietude. Snowshoe hares scamper under the lowest boughs, nibbling bark where the prying eyes of owls and falcons cannot reach. Bobcats, and the occasional lynx wandering south, pad over snowdrifts and penetrate the thick ground cover and briar vine where the killing is close and the thrashing of prey is dampened by the bloody cushion of snow. Partridge hold tight in their wintry cocoons, resisting the urge to break to the surface in the presence of such a death.

In March, the reign of cold and starvation briefly strengthens before suddenly beginning to wane. Little by little the icy dagger’s asperity is dulled by the quickening staccato of dripping waters, while the puddles of Winter begin to feed the shoots of Spring. The full-throated call of geese on the move challenges what hibernal holdfast remains, but their honks fade into the North; they intend for another land.

Flights of woodcock, the night traveler, flit through the twilight hours. From Texas and Louisiana, their up-down-up again patterns twist over the canopy, bouncing up the coastline. They spend their days feasting on worms wriggling from warming soil, peenting in the wet places between the trees, and waiting for the coming darkness and their chance to dance in the night sky. But they are not the herald.

The herald comes after the woodcock, and the geese, and the starvation, and the cold. He shatters the stillness and what ice remains hanging from the budding limbs of the oaks no longer covered in hoarfrost. He sends the crows to flight and answers their cawing with a thunder of his own. He signals the hares to shed their whites and to put on the garments of Spring, and ushers in replacements for those fallen and vanquished by fang and famine. On downed logs clear of snow, ruffed grouse drum again. 

He bellows, he whoops, and he yawps against the cold until the sap runs thick from the maple taps and the stream beds flood their banks with the overflows of season’s change. With curved spurs and dragging beard he terrorizes the ground, conjuring what grows in the dirt to rise and fill the bellies of those who survived the frozen times. Dragging wingtips and fanned tail feathers welcome the sunrise. Usurp, he cries. 

Spring is here.

About the Author

Major Jake Forrest Lunsford, USMC is a native Georgian currently hunting and fishing in Rhode Island while serving as Commandant of the Marine Corps Fellow at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs.