Many people consider the official start of spring to be the equinox in mid-March. Because I crave green growing things, I made an executive decision to call March 1st the first day of spring as the meteorologists do. My young grandson and I exchanged the crystal snowflakes that had hung on the patio door since November, for the bright pink crystal flowers. Both cast rainbows when the sun is shining, however, the flowers signify to us that the garden will soon be full of blooms.
Minnesotans are hearty souls, but still it seems that by the time we have had even two months of snow and cold weather, we look for signs of spring. Of course, we always have at least six more weeks of winter, no matter what the groundhog predicts. But little signs, like crows in early January 1929 (now they stay for the winter) and frogs in February 1907, give us hope.
My grandmother, Hellen McQuillen Scheer, proclaimed spring was really here when she could smell, and then locate, the trailing arbutus (also called mayflower and ground laurel) in the woods near their Marcell cabin. Grandma introduced me to this lovely flower when I was a kid, and I have never forgotten the scent. Another place I found trailing arbutus is at the Lost Forty. [https://www.exploreminnesota.com/profile/lost-40-sna/5508]
If you go in search of these flowers, you need to look down, as it is low growing. “Tight clusters of up to eight, short-stalked, tubular flowers in the upper leaf axils and the tips of branches. Flowers are ½ inch across with five pink to white petals that are fused forming a tube about ½ inch long. The inside of the tube is densely covered in white hairs.” [https://www.minnesotawildflowers]
The following news articles highlight signs of spring in the early years. In addition to the blackbirds and robins that we consider the first birds to return to our region, eighty years ago crows were also harbingers of spring.
For this column I have arranged the news tidbits by month rather than year.
3rd ~ Sober and Saw Crows
“Additional comment on the weather! Frank Miller called The News office last Friday morning and said, ‘Mike Guthrie saw three crows this morning, and Mike was perfectly sober!’ We’ll take their word for it, but if those crows didn’t get out of the country before 1929 arrived, they didn’t have a happy New Year.” [Deer River News 1929]
12th ~ Stays All Winter
“It was a wise out blackbird that knew months ago that we were going to have a January thaw. To see a blackbird in Deer River in mid-winter is something unusual, but there is one right here. He can be seen daily feeding in the alley back of the F.W. Miller residence.
Mr. Blackbird didn’t go south when cold weather came. He found a gracious hostess in Mrs. Millie Hickthier, mother of Mrs. Miller, who feeds him daily. If there is no lunch out when he appears, he scolds in no uncertain terms. Mebbe you can fool the wise guys, but you can’t fool the birds on northern Minnesota winters. Our January thaw this week is a sample.” [Deer River News 1928]
22nd ~ Pussy Willows, Skunks are Signs of Spring
“With seed catalogs arriving daily and small boys getting out their marbles, folks are beginning to think spring is on the way. Our friend, Old Timer, pooh-poohed such things yesterday, but we stuck him with two others that made him scratch his head.
Last Tuesday morning David Robinson brought to the News office a willow twig on which there were two as fine Pussies in full bloom, as you ever saw in April. ‘Ike’ broke that twig off to chastise his unruly pup, and when he saw those Pussies, they reminded him of spring and baseball, and he forgot all about ‘Spud.’
Henry Jurvelin adds another. Last Friday evening, while going north on 61, within the village limits, a full-grown skunk crossed the road in front of him. It was one of the four-legged species, and Henry, as he always is, was perfectly sober. Seeing these animals early in February is not unusual, but when they’re out a month ahead, it means something. Nature knows, and these are sure signs of spring.” [Deer River News 1931]
11th ~ Spring Goods have Arrived
“Already the express and freight are bringing fresh supplies of spring merchandise. Among the goods already on the counters and in transit are the following:
~ Motor Coats –Long tweed, caravanette garments in size 18 to 44. Price range in this lot is $29.90 to $49.50.
~ Dresses—This shipment left New York Jan. 28 by express, and will no doubt be here when you read this. It contains silk and wool dresses in black and colors; sizes 16 to 42. Prices from $19.75 to $67.50.
~ Shoes—Ladies “Aunt Polly” large ankle shoes, Selby fine shoes in military or Louis heels, children’s shoes in sizes infants’ 1 to misses’ 11.
~ Underwear—Groundhog says six weeks cold, but we have little faith in him and have the summer underwear ready.” [Grand Rapids Herald-Review 1920]
10th ~ Sees His Shadow—Six Weeks Cold
“Saturday was ground hog day and according to the ancient sign there will be six weeks more of cold weather in Itasca County. The day was cloudy, except at noon, but on the night before it was 33 below at the dam, near Mr. Groundhog’s home, and so he stayed in until at noon, when he ventured out. He saw his shadow and went back to sleep. However, the people of this section are not paying much attention to signs and omens. We are going to have six weeks of cold weather, anyhow.” [Grand Rapids Herald-Review 1918]
13th ~ Another Week for Loggers to Work
This week will probably bring to a close what has been one of the most prosperous winters for logging and forest products operators ever in the history of northern Minnesota. A week or ten days ago most men were not prepared for a thaw and the destruction of the roads. By today, however, most of them have finished their work and only those with an unlimited amount to do will suffer by the break up. The sleighing was pretty well gone last week when the sudden cold snap and two inches of snow brought as good roads as have been found in the woods any time during the past three months. [Grand Rapids Herald-Review 1918]
16th ~ Frogs Coming Soon
“Indications point strongly towards a free open air concert on the banks of the Bigfork River at Bigfork in about three weeks time. The concert will be given by an assembly of frogs that will pour forth all those vocal spring selections that are so welcomed in these parts after a period of several months of 30 below zero weather.” [Bigfork Times 1928]
19th ~ Saw Crow Sunday
“Donald Wagoner and Reynold Corwin claim the record of seeing the first crow of the season, spying one of the black fellows near County Road last Sunday. Others report seeing crows Tuesday. These dates for seeing the caw-caws in this region are unusually early and will probably stand for some years. This is deemed a pretty sure sign of the approach of spring, for Old Black Crow is a wise old bird.” [Deer River News 1931]
20th ~ Spring is on the Way
“Emory Hadley called up yesterday afternoon and reported the first crow of the season, seen near County Road station. A few moments later Mrs. Henry Truempler reported seeing three of them. Here’s hoping these harbingers of Spring won’t get their toes frosted before the Mayflowers begin to bloom!” [Deer River News 1930]
25th ~ Find Pussy Willows
“On Friday, Feb. 12th, Wm. Mastellar and John Yuill, while working near the new state fish hatchery at Cutfoot Sioux, found a most unusual token of our fine winter weather. Popple buds were found that were opening, and fully developed “pussies” were waving in the breeze. The circumstance is most unusual, indicating that the weather has not been severe enough to entirely freeze the tree and stop the sap from running. That’s another boost for our fine Northern Minnesota winter weather.” [Itasca News 1926]
29th ~ First Crow
“Melvin Olson, son of Mr. and Mrs. Peter Olson of Chase Lake, sees first crow.” [Itasca News 1936]
22nd ~ Officially Spring
“Today is officially spring, and sleighing petered out on Thursday in open places. In the village very little snow is to be seen and where for the week water and slush has been, is now some dry ground.” [Itasca News 1919]
23rd ~ Crows
“Since the crows have made their appearance, we feel satisfied that spring is at hand, and it is a good time to prepare the farm machinery for the spring work.” [Bigfork Times 1928]
26th ~ Crows and Robins
“The crows and robins have returned to Bigfork after spending the winter in the south and their return here receives a cordial welcome. This nice spring weather, which has taken away that great white blanket that has covered mother earth for the past few months, gives us the assurance that the croaking of the frogs and the buzz of the mosquitoes will soon be heard. With all the necessities to add to the pleasures of life what chance is there for any complaints in these parts?” [Bigfork Settler 1926]
1st ~ Fish Tales
“Foster Root, who lives out on the Scenic Highway, was in town this week with some more of his big fish yarns which is another sign of spring. His latest is that the lakes weren’t safe for travel this winter on account of the many holes caused by the bass poking their noses out to look at the sun.” [Bigfork Times 1927]
10th ~ Long Winter and Cold Spring
“The weather, notwithstanding the early melting snow, has now every indication of a late spring. For ten days up to yesterday morning the wind remained strong and steady in the northwest and the ground has been freezing all of that time. With soft weather and warm rain, it will take more time than is left for conditions to make early grain seeding this year, it is feared. The country never saw such a long winter and cold spring.” [Itasca News 1920]
2nd ~ First Arbutus Blossoms
“Trailing arbutus is in blossom. The first blooms were brought into town last Friday, although some were reported on Thursday. The time is long past when this beautiful flower could be gathered in the vacant lot in the village, although there are people living in Grand Rapids who remember gathering it where the Central school now stands. It is fund in abundance, however, within two or three miles of the village, and is always eagerly welcomed as the first wildflower of spring, as well as one of the most fragrant and pleasing of the entire season.” [Grand Rapids Herald Review 1928]
16th ~ The Frogs are Back
“The frogs have commenced to croak, and what an awful croak it is.” [Bigfork Settler 1907]
23rd ~ Four Inches of Snow
“A heavy snowstorm Tuesday afternoon and evening covered the ground with four inches of the beautiful white and on Wednesday afternoon the haymaker spread his hot rays upon the earth which now leaves our rich soil in splendid condition for rubber boots.” [Bigfork Settler 1907]
Let’s hope we don’t get four inches of snow in May, but even if we do, perhaps the trailing arbutus will appear the next day when the snow melts!