“Love calls like the wild birds-
It’s another day.
A Spring wind blew my list of
Things to do…away.” – Greg Brown
Last weekend, I ran 10 miles along the Grande Ronde River, followed by a picnic on its banks, and a saunter through the floodplain cottonwoods of Bird Track Spring nature trail. In that slice of time and season, I noted the subtle and the declarative hand of Spring.
A hooded merganser slipped through the shadows cast by cottonwoods luxuriating in a flooded oxbow. The ochre tips of alders hinted at buds and leaves on their way. A male kingfisher flew off into a slough on wings flashing moons upon the green fast flow of water. Buttercups burst like laughter from the soil.
When I run solo, I pause at will for birds and beauty. That could make for a slow day, since every step offers a moment of revelation. To have any hope of forward motion, instead I find the “pause” in letting all jumble of to do lists, anxieties, and plans.
In their place on a late March day, I find respite and awakenings along the quiet highway 244 that heads off I-84 west of La Grande at Hilgard State Park and follows the Grande Ronde upriver. The road eventually reaches Ukiah, but to stay along the river, you take the left fork of the Grande Ronde River Road and head south and climb back up into winter.
The Grande Ronde River marks the life source of the valley that I now inhabit. For almost 200 miles, this river flows from headwaters in the Blue Mountains where I run and in the Wallowa Mountains to the northwest to eventually join the Snake River that in turn converges with the Columbia.
The tributaries ring with wildness–Wenaha, Wallowa, Minam, Lostine, Catherine Creek, Joseph Creek and Lookingglass. A lower stretch of 44 miles (north to the Washington border) is designated a Wild and Scenic River. What would make the Grande Ronde that much wilder would be a return to the historic days of abundant salmon and steelhead that are still hanging on, waiting for the day when we at last take down the dams of the Columbia impeding their migration. We’d also need more river restoration in the agricultural Grande Ronde Valley. Big tasks!
Ah, see how my mind wanders to a major “to do?” Shhh. Hush. Not this moment. The currents tug at the willows. Silvery-limbed cottonwoods streak skyward. Spring is on the march and I’m swept along in the procession. That’s what matters at this moment. Recharge. Renew. Restore. Reflect.
Then, I saw the ants and everything changed. Wandering the tree-lined and marshy sloughs after my run and a picnic on the riverbank, the three-foot high ant mound writhed with red and black insects. These ants weren’t pausing, lulling or taking time to soak up the sun. Instead? Thousands of western thatching ants bustled as one fantastic working organism. In fact, a typical mound like this one is home to some 40,000 and a study right here in the Blue Mountains found evidence of polydomy.
Here’s the fact lifted from the Wikipedia entry on thatching ants: “In the Blue Mountains of Oregon, F. obscuripes has demonstrated the capacity for polydomy. A supercolony in a four-hectare study area near Lehman Hot Springs consisted of 210 active nests with an estimated population in excess of 56 million ants.”
I stopped and bent close to watch ants carting twigs and tumbling over one another in organized chaos. Marvelous.
E.O. Wilson–scientist, eloquent champion of biodiversity, and an expert on ants– reminds us that: ” Ants are the dominant insects of the world, and they’ve had a great impact on habitats almost all over the land surface of the world for more than 50-million years.”
They’re tiny, powerful and have hummed and thrived and shaped this planet for so much longer than us (compare 50 million years to some 200,000 for humans) that you’d think we ought to sit at the foot of an ant mound and soak in all the learning we can.
I have no desire to move at that speed or to bump shoulders with so many of my kind at once, yet the dance of ants on a first warming day connected my slow-moving limbs to what lies beneath the skin–cells replicating, heart beating, blood rushing through arteries and returning through veins, a symphony of the unseen within each one of us.
There’s no better time than Spring to tap into the pulse of all that lives and breathes around us and within. To do that? Follow the advice of one of my favorite songs of the season, by folksinger Greg Brown: “Love calls like the wild birds–it’s another day. A Spring wind blew my list of things to do…away.”