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Of Woods and Words: Desperately Seeking Springtime

FinalCut_OWW_03072012.mp38.26 MB

This time of year, I think everyone starts looking for signs of spring. By March, even the die-hard winter lovers have to admit that someday in the not-so-distant future, the snow and ice will give way to open water and muck and that this inevitable thaw is a good thing.

Lately, I’ve been on the look out for telltale signs of spring. This past weekend, we spied an eagle circling the bay. After spending the winter by Lake Superior’s open water, the eagle must be thinking of returning to its nest up here on the Trail. This first eagle sighting came two weeks earlier this year than last year and if that means ice out will be two weeks earlier this year, so be it, I say.

Nature is making other subtle shifts toward springtime. Icicles now drip off the eaves even on cloudy days and the days are gathering up an impressive amount of daylight as the weeks go by.

The calendar makes less subtle shifts. Already, while some of us are still shrugging off the last shadowy bits of seasonal affective disorder, we’re springing into spring. It looks likely that the snow will still lie knee-deep in the woods when the vernal equinox arrives on March 20.

Despite the promising signs of returning eagles, melting icicles, and longer days, for me the surest sign that winter will soon be over is when the Minnesota Boys State High School Hockey Tournament starts up over the second weekend of March. This annual four-day hockey tournament has played a central role in my life and because the tournament almost always coincides with my birthday, the tournament feels a bit like the axis my whole year turns on. The color commentary of intrepid tournament announcer Lou Nanne is the soundtrack to this annual weekend at my house.

The tournament is important for several reasons. For one thing, it signals the end of the winter sport season and the start of the spring thaw. For another, it marks a passing year. And lastly, it offers the best hockey in the world. On the rare occasions when I’ve been out of state at tournament time, I’ve made friends tape the championship games for me.

Because of the tournament’s importance, my family and I have come up with some pretty creative ways to get around the fact that none of us own a television on which to watch it. One time, my father came home from work with a borrowed tv so small, it fit inside his backpack. Another time, we borrowed a larger television, which only got reception in our unfinished basement. That year we huddled around the tv on the concrete floor between the wood pile and roaring wood furnace. More often than not, we ended up crashing at the home of some accommodating friend or relative to get our annual fill of hockey. Thanks to advances in technology, in recent years my parents have been able to stream the games on their computer.

I suppose the eagle and I have opposite springtime migrations. When I sense that first tremor of springtime at hockey tournament time, I leave my nest in the woods and head down to my childhood home on the north shore of Lake Superior, where there’s not only open water, but also televisions, high speed Internet and hockey action.

As sure as the winter constellations are slipping out of sight in the night sky, as sure as I’m cheering for Duluth East, Marshall, Hermantown and any other northern teams in this year’s hockey tournament, spring is coming.

I know it’ll be here soon. Any day now.

Airdate: March 14, 2012

Photo courtesy of Chrissy Wainwright via Flickr.