The movement of the Sherburne Wildlife Refugee is an extraordinary tally sheet of earth’s smallest creatures totaling up to enormous assets. Within that wealth of conservation and preservation, are life’s tiny stories, and the reason for experiencing this slice of natural history that’s constantly writing and rewriting itself as it strives for perfection.
I walk to the eagle lookout and stand alone. Squinting my eyes, I struggle to see the small baby nesting on a tree. This tree appears so fragile that the first May winds could be an invitation for it to collapse into the pond, separating the birds from the nest, and us from their flight.
I am grateful for this moment alone before the other members of my group arrive, filling the air with their dialogue, questions, instructions, and observations. This time is mine and I lease it gratefully from the inhabitants around me. I sit amidst the melody of the meadowlark, and with great stillness, I wait as the pond and the cold and the leaf and the stem cradle me I their palms.
My group arrives and we all sit patiently and linger as the flowers, growing discreetly close to the ground, allow the insects to cascade busily over their foliage as they begin their daily mini-dramas. These dramas are so full of importance that we all need to watch, though our eyes always seem to fall higher to the faces of friends. Sometimes we look so high up that we miss the tale the grass has to tell, a story that begins in spring with the inspiration of green as each blade drinks nourishing sunlight and sops up the offerings of rain.
I breathe in the cold. The unusually brittle air of May fills me like helium and I begin to move. I hover down the path that leads me to the edge of the eagle pond. Later, I will be honored by the presence of sand hill cranes and scarlet tanagers, but now frogs in their early juncture create a motion in my ears that repeats like a song from my youth; a tune without memory of lyric. The taste on my tongue is dry and green and surprisingly unsavory, but like fine Bordeaux I want another sip. I bend down to touch the grasses by the pond, and they shudder with the morning cold and wind that wakes them.
You never know how cold you are going to find the trail when you greet it for the first time in May. Wind directions and the movement of the sun can surprise even the best and most experienced hiker. The cold of May has a surprising chill in central Minnesota. May cold is shared by all that live and pass through the refugee, whether they fly, crawl, stride on all fours. or wander in boots. It lies next to the baby eaglets, and gives you a common bond with the gold-winged warbler. May cold covers the bur oak and makes the garter snake slide quickly through the grass to its buried hole. May cold is the preliminary to the finals of spring, as it alerts you to your relationship with the goose or American crow. Surviving May cold is essential for the growth and journey of the wood tick, the mosquito, the bat, and the robin. Taken for granted by generations who were too busy running inside to warm-up by a fire, May cold is essential for life.
You can’t experience life from your window by the fire. You can’t feel the bark of an aged tamarack by driving through the forest. You can’t hear the squawk of a blue jay with your headphones on. The only way to see how the tally sheet fills up is to strip off some comforts and walk in the cold. Move with the birds and borrow some space from them. When you give yourself those tiny assets before the rest of the world greets you for the day, you carry a little bit of the natural history of a place like the Sherburne Wildlife Refugee with you for the rest of your life.