Watching the miracle of spring in Westwater

When we were in St. George at the end of February, I walked around the block in my mother-in-law’s neighborhood.

Birds sang their spring mating songs on branches laced with delicate green. Daffodils, looking like old-fashioned telephones, and purple crocuses bloomed.

After the frigid winter, the new life emerging seemed like a miracle.

That miracle included the newest member of our family, and as I snuggled two-week-old McKinley Jolien, I fell head-over-teacups in love with the tiny baby who still sported a birthing bump on her head, marveling, as we always do, at her spirit, newly arrived on earth, housed in a physical body.

I also visited a friend who had recently been diagnosed with stage three cancer, a seeming contrast to little McKinley.

Strikingly beautiful, this young woman was more than just a pretty face having garnered numerous medals from Iron Man events, marathons, and the grueling Spartan Races where she climbed over obstacles and crawled through mud bogs.

“I’m a rebel,” she told me. “I’m taking an alternative route first to see if it works before going through surgery or chemo.”

Her alternative route, besides a strict dietary regime, included surrender, forgiveness, and love.

My mother-in-law, whom we stay within St. George, grew up in Colonia Juarez, a community she adored.

“It was an ideal life, a wonderful place to grow up,” she said. Deeply homesick for Mexico, she yearned to be back among her family and friends, many of whom have passed on to an even more ideal place.

Yet, as she reminisced about the experiences of her youth, spoke in Spanish to Oggie, and sang the Mexican National Anthem, the goldfinches, house finches, Albert’s Towhees, mourning doves, and sparrows feasted on the seeds in her small backyard.

At one point she stopped the memory train and stared out her French doors, suddenly very present. “Look at that bird’s red head,” she said, pointing to a house finch. “Isn’t it beautiful?”

I agreed, and when we returned home, I watched for beautiful birds and the miracle of spring in Westwater.

We’d had some nice snows over the winter, our largest accumulating around six inches, but it had already melted. The soil and sand had dried so much that no new tracks appeared.

Some years, migratory birds return in February, pausing for a time in the canyon, but not this year, not yet, and no sign of the vultures who have a rookery on the west side of the canyon.

Still, the daisies grew new leaves at their base, the prickly pears started greening up after turning purple and burgundy in the cold, and the grasses, including cheat grass, sprouted vibrant green spears.

I spotted several purple heart plants while coming down a rocky hill, and tiny leaves sprouted on a Utah serviceberry bush. The ice had disappeared from the stream which flowed with abandon.

However, spring is a wild card in San Juan County, and Saturday, Sunday, and Tuesday we saw new snowfall and even hail.

As long as it’s not too deep, I can’t resist walking the canyon in the snow although Oggie, with her recent haircut, isn’t sure it is a good idea.

Bribing her to accompany me, we entered the canyon on Saturday, crossed the stream, and climbed up the path to the west side.

The snow had already outlined the rocks and trees, so everything looked new, almost as if I’d never seen the canyon before, and beneath the snow, the trail squished with mud.

The air, the trees, and even Oggie became more and more weighted with icy crystals. Because a number of pinyons had died in the canyon last year, I rejoiced in the moisture and in the surviving trees which looked a deeper, richer green.

In the falling flakes, the birds remained silent. Everything remained silent except the stream.

When the tower came into sight, we crossed the water, the banks crusted with snow. Oggie paused to shake vigorously before we started the hike up the other side and again on the upper trail.

I finally heard some birds and spotted five or six robins flying in and out of a snowy juniper.

I told them, telepathically, of course, not to be discouraged: It would be warmer soon, maybe even tomorrow, and the snow would melt.

It would be spring with new babies, migratory birds, and blossoming plants.

It would be a time of renewal for my beloved friend diagnosed with cancer, her healing coming from enormous courage and profound humility, a healing much deeper than the mere physical.

Perhaps healing would also come for my mother-in-law, who loves the beauty of birds as much as she loves the past.

One of my favorite poets, Sandra Skouson, recently wrote a poem called “The Spring Keeper.” Its last two stanzas are as follows:

Up until today
Watching dried leaves
Scudding across the street
Like frightened mice,
I have been the keeper of spring
Passing the memory of green spears
Through the days
Through the nights—
Expecting them taller with every glance.
Spring is brewing in the windows of my mind.
It brews through the lumps and dunes of snow
One on top of the other.

There comes a day.
The gladness of mud lifts the green
Fall is gone
Has never lived
Spring was never
Anywhere but now.

San Juan Record

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