Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

April 11, 1920. Omaha Sunday World-Herald 55(29): 14-N.

In the Days of April the Wild Goose Flys On

By Sandy Griswold.

Jocund April days, the first alluring ones of the year, as they always are in this favored latitude. I took a jaunt up my favorite old trail the river road a few days ago, and while things generally were a bit laggard, and it was in the full tide of the vernal freshet, it was an ideal day of this opening and hopeful season, with its emotional inconstancy of alternating sunshine and shower.

"And hopes and light regrets that come
Make April of her tender eyes."

The ice, days before, under the gentle influences of March's closing reign, had all gone swinging down the river, which was now swollen, roilly and in anything but a gracious mood, flooding the intervale meadows and fields, until in some places the banks, deep under the whining waters, were marked only by the tops of the alder, willow and the spiky buck brush, and by a line of scraggy cottonwoods whitened in the winter's storms. Along this dim demarcation the water was passive as a brook, but off in front it rushed in heavy swirls, swaying the implacable alders and willows, and boiling with swish and gurgle around the bases of still resolutely opposing bars.

Above the swollen flood of the valley, where the snows had hurried away in bedraggled retreat, were all the converging beauties of the earliest of spring days, washed softly and benignly in the illimitable deluge of the April sunshine. The air, with seeming reluctance, carried in its currents a certain fluctuating chill, caught largely from the onflow of icy waters. But in delicious measure, its principal freightage was the breath of willow catkin and of the sprouting frondescence all about with their first shy bloom in the warmest exposures of the uplands.

And in addition to the fragrance and the almost imperceptible chill, it carried the subtle harmonies of the dawning spring, a confusion, yet constant commingling of the most delicate sounds that were evidently endeavoring to weave a tissue of soothing melody over the steady muffled, termagant murmur of the rushing river. In this faint symphony of delicate sounds I was enabled to differentiate the welcome voices of the woodsy habitants, the chirr of many little arrivals in the oak tops, the vibrant yet liquid call of the hardy cardinal, the intermittent ecstasy of robin and blue jay, with the occasional long flute-like call of the yellowhammer from far across the flood, vieing wit the insuppressible clamor of the feeding crows in a jungle of irrelevant and spasmodic chords, all followed by a hush in the prevailing rhythm which left the complaint of th freshet strongly predominating.

The blending hues of the struggling vernal forces were as finely thrilling as its odor and its melodies. The filmy veiling of the over-spanning blue and the gray ridges, and roystering clay colored waters, furnishing a background to the thin washes and stains and tints of tree, rock, bush, roadway and splashed expanse of field and grove.

Over the alders, still sturdily upholding, was a shimmering sheen of faintest cerulean; over the willows a yellow glimmer with a lacing of scarlet, and in the involucre of the maples on the ridge's side a veiling of rosy-pink, and hovering along the patches of distant bluff and upland a general mist of green, and over all the landscape an illusive smudge of indigo, which, in the spring, the same as fall, purples all the atmosphere. Here and there along the devoured shores, still standing aloof from the snarling water of the river, a tall old cottonwood or scraggly elm emphatically broken in on the picture with an intrusion of gray and white and russet - an opalescent scene beheld in few spots as vividly as up along the legendary old river road.

High up on the bluff's side, along the edge of the woods, I found the young, green turf close and soft, and sat me down to watch and listen. There I remained with my bird glasses as my only companion, save another one, that for the time, knows no name.

It was well along in the afternoon when I ceased my rambles and halted for breath, but I lingered entranced, until the April evening, softly chill and full of the sense of a revulsion of weather conditions, came closing down upon woodland and swirling river. Down through the gray boles and fuzzy branches, the waters of the Missouri, in their wild fretting glimmered through the dusk and lapped faintly among the winter-ruined remnants of her battered shores.

Far off, infinitely far it seemed in the delusive atmosphere, which was clear, yet thronged with the ghosts of snow - the last daylight at last lay in a thin streak, pale and sharp, along the vast arc of the horizon. Overhead the shadows were multiplying, for the moon was late n rising, and the tenuous spring clouds were smeared plentifully enough athwart to shut out the stars. Space and mystery spread out before me, and mystery and space lay abroad upon the levels beyond the ever warring river.

All at once, from along the dark heights of the southern sky, came voices, hollow and confused, yet far-reaching and musical. Swiftly they grew plainer and more distinct, and I knew were approaching. It was the most beloved sound of all the many of the spring time, clamorous, monotonous and vibrant, the auh-unk, auh-unk-unk-unk-unk of the wild goose - a sound that always makes me a boy again and makes me long to do great and glorious things.

Those wild voices hinted of wide distance voyages over on untiring pinion, of the teeming trophies from whence they were journeying, as well as the remote and ready beds and rocky tarns of far Labrador for which they were bound.

Quickly the long beaded triangle passed over my crypt in the woods, wilder crying than ever, and as they went on, honking in defiance to both elements and man, on in that spacious harrow - on, on, and ever on toward the polar lights - over the illusive mysterious glimmer of the darkening landscape below, ridge, woods, river and gray and mottled field.

As I started down the ridge's side, through the thickening shadows as I go through those down the hill of life, I fell a-musing. And thus, that last faint cadence of the cry of the wild goose, floating down and back from out the nebulous northern skies, in the magic of that ghostly echo, I was a boy again.It was no delusion, unreal, yet real and true. The same youthful blood was pulsating through my veins, the same thoughts thronging my brain, that pulsed and thronged there sixty years, no sixty days, no sixty minutes, ago, it seemed, and I was a boy again, roaming the hills in the spring time, seeing the same imageries, smelling the same scents. Having survived the tremendous trajectory from birth to the near infinite, having crashed through the intellectual heavens and the emotional hills leading up to the silver crested old man, I had jumped back to my beginning - back to the enchanted realm of boyhood, that brief epoch of pure untruth, pure make-believe, pure spontaneous anarchy, the impenitent Rabelaisian spirit of youth - the old man playing hookey with life.

In a last word, the boy is the true philosopher, the perfect reader of the book of life. It is spread out before him more real than the external world around him. ALl his psychic life is concentrated in the characters and images that stalk forth from its pages. He admits no distraction. He is a veritable demon of adventure. His brain is multi-winged. His soul is emigrant to all shores. He moves with Seven League Boots. he lives - he has his being in the Image.

When the farewell call of the wild goose is falling from the April skies, who is there, old or young, who may say this nay?

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