Memories of spring in North Central Washington
April 2009, Nature of Place, NCW Green Ways
By Nancy Warner
Spring moves like a wave over North Central Washington each year as the days grow longer and the ground thaws and warms. The chirp of the returning robins and the crocus flowers poking up in our gardens tells us it’s coming. We know it?s here when we push our heavy coats to the back of the closet and follow the urge to dig in the dirt, ride bikes, play marbles, and take a deep breath of fresh air.
Like everything else, the way you experience spring in North Central Washington depends on when and where you stand.
According to longtime Waterville resident Nadra Rivers, “Spring arrives late and with a good deal of wind.” Most wildflowers are scarce until late April or May, but Nadra and her daughter Kathi Rivers Shannon remember the big V-shaped flocks of Canada geese flying over on their way north as an early sign of spring. “It was a big season changer,” Kathi says. “But now more geese stay around the area so it doesn?t have the big effect it used to have.”
For Withrow-area farmer Randy Uhrich, spring was a hectic time preparing the fields for planting. “The ground would have to dry out enough to plow — this would start from the first to the middle of April depending on the season. Dad always said it was going to be cold until the snow is off Badger Mountain. That basically still holds. So you’d get out in the fields as soon as you could to work the ground, but it would be cold. Things wouldn’t germinate as fast.”
John Thoren grew up on a ranch in the northeast portion of Douglas County where each spring his mother “used to watch for the buttercups coming out on the south side of the hills.” He remembers how all kinds of ducks, including mallards, would come into the potholes across the ranch, after the thaw, along with tadpoles and salamanders. “Some people used to use lakes on our place to catch salamanders or waterdogs, which they used for fish bait.”
He also remembers how they’d see sandhill cranes in March to early April. “I would guess there was 100 to 200 that would migrate through that area,” he says, an event that sparked interest in nearby Waterville. Nadra Rivers recalls how “the word would go through town that the cranes are out by Mansfield — and we’d pile the kids in and go out and look at the cranes.”
In addition to ducks and cranes, the Thoren family wheatfields attracted migrating Canada geese in the spring. “We had one field — and if that field was in fall wheat so it was green in the spring, the geese would just decimate it. It was just grazed off just as slick as the tabletop. Hundreds of geese — maybe even thousands. They would come in off of Banks Lake to the ranch and, on a quarter section, they could look almost black — there could be that many geese on it.”
Further north at the Sinlahekin State Wildlife Area in Okanogan County, manager Dale Swedberg says, “It’s possible to see marmots (ground hog or rock chuck) as early as April when fishing season opens up. As soon as the first green vegetation appears you’ll see them out foraging.”
Mule deer and mountain goats also feed on the fresh green plants that come up on the south slopes of the Sinlahekin Valley. “Buttercups, yellow bells, bluebells, spring beauties, and balsamroot will come up around then. And, if it’s a particularly wet spring, some of the hillsides will be literally blue from the lupine.”
Nancy Warner is program director for the Nature of Place, a program of the Initiative for Rural Innovation & Stewardship (IRIS).