The last, and most famous, line of English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem Ode to the West Wind reads, “If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?” If you’ve lived in Colorado long enough, you know the opposite is also true here: If Spring comes, can Winter be far behind? Many of the most prodigious snowstorms I’ve experienced have happened in March, even after the official arrival of spring.
So I make a point to enjoy spring-like weather whenever it occurs, be it in December, March, or June. And I’m particularly grateful when warm days coincide with a spring break staycation. The weather was so nice on Monday that staying inside was tantamount to a crime. While my husband and one of our sons were at baseball practice, the other son joined me in an outing to the Riverbend Ponds Natural Area to look for signs of spring.
Riverbend Ponds is off of Prospect Road east of Timberline. I have driven by many times, but always on my way to or from somewhere else. When my son and I arrived, we happened to bump into Kimberly from the Natural Areas Program. (The Natural Areas folks are so great—always generous with their time and knowledge.) After learning that it was our first visit, Kimberly gave us lots of great information about the area and its inhabitants, starting with the harvester ant colony at our feet.
See the big circle of tiny rocks? That’s the work of the native harvester ants. Despite the sunny day, the ants were underground, which might be just as well since their toxin is more potent than a cobra’s. Thankfully, they dispense it in very tiny amounts, but it still makes for a painful bite.
Riverbend Ponds provides at least a temporary home to snapping turtles, muskrats, beavers, deer, foxes, coyotes, weasels, rabbits, a multitude of birds, and dozens more creatures large and small. My son and I followed the trail around Big Pond, with a side trip down the boardwalk path cutting through a rustling expanse of dried cattails. Two redtail hawks circled above, water trickled below, and the sounds of honking and quacking waterfowl came from all sides.
As we proceeded around Big Pond, stopping at the Poudre River along the way, we saw doves, robins, and flickers, and heard other birds neither one of us could quite identify. (I really need to study up on birds.) We also kept a sharp eye out for weasels, but, as mid-afternoon is not prime weasel time, we were not surprised that we didn’t see one. But that didn’t keep us from saying, “Look! A weasel!” whenever we saw anything move, be it a goose, a jogger, a crow, a dog, a baby stroller, a fisherman, a bicycle, or each other.
Walking with my son, discussing the mysteries of nature and middle school…what a fine way to spend a gorgeous afternoon. Each time I visit a natural area in or around Fort Collins, I count myself lucky to live in a place where so many people value the worth of our beautiful and diverse environment. As for the signs of spring…buds are swelling, grass is greening, the ponds are free of ice. Even if the snow flies again, each day brings us closer to the end of winter.