April showers of songs and flowers
There is nothing like a four-day rain to showcase the hydraulic energy of a landscape with some topography.Skip to next paragraph
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Our 80-acre farm in south- central Indiana undulates across three ridge tops. The larger of its two stream valleys twists and turns through two pastures and a woodland before joining Bean Blossom Creek.
This is an intermittent stream, not a major conduit. Normally, its spring flow is sprightly at best, its erosive power infinitesimal. A dim sense of geologic time comes to me from watching its waters ripple harmlessly over unmoving gravel at the base of its sheer-rock banks.
Valleymaking is a slow piece of work that sometimes comes to a halt on the farm. By midsummer, we often have to check the few remaining water holes on a daily basis and ultimately resort to filling tanks by the barn for our cattle to drink from.
But the broad, moisture-laden weather system that barreled over the Midwest recently revealed and filled every vein of the farm capable of carrying water.
And all of those veins lead to the little streams. Endlessly fed by the skies, by hydrantlike springs bursting from the hillsides, and by the coalescing of countless rivulets, they soon became forces to be reckoned with.
We have learned to check on things around the farm when the weather gets wet and wild. Trees lose their grip on saturated ground and fence posts lean. We need to look for the cows, which do not always sensibly head barnward when storms gather.
All are good excuses for me to wander the farm when every hollow is pulsing with fluid energy, even if it means water-filled boots.
Following the larger stream, I found water burbling from a thousand hillside sieves and steep torrents tumbling down the ravines. Cleaned of the winter's leaf litter, these flumes of smooth black shale delivered runoff from the spongy pastures at a prodigious rate.
Even the small seep in the far back of the farm - normally a trickle emerging amid some trees at the pasture's edge - now tumbled over a tangle of exposed roots in a series of cataracts. This helped feed the second and smaller of our two streams until it, too, roared on its way to Griffy Lake.
Our animals did take to the barn during one heavy siege of early-morning rain. Drenched and steaming, they contentedly munched the last of the winter's hay as the roof above them thrummed and rumbled.
After the weather eased and the peepers began to chorus, I began my rounds again along cow paths that glistened under a dull, dripping sky.
I found that other creatures besides the cows had found shelter as well. I startled a pair of Carolina wrens building a nest in an outbuilding. Other birds emerged from thickets, shaking and fluffing their damp plumage.
I watched a snail stretching from its shell on a stump under the shelter of a fungus.
The rains of spring usher in the songs of birds and frogs and turn a wren's thoughts to the future. They nudge the first of the wildflowers up from the dark humus of the forest floor. They quicken the streams until the whole farm resonates to the year's main pulse of valleymaking.