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68 Spring’s First Warm Rain Yesterday afternoon, the first true spring rain began to fall, warm and gentle, deep into the night. Only ten days before, the grass was weighted down by sleet, then light snow. But yesterday’s rain was different . It helped amphibians find their voices, allowed leopard frogs to serenade the lakes and ponds with a raspy snore and chuckle. I saw Carolina chickadees checking out a cavity in an aging redbud tree, and eastern bluebirds grew talkative, their calls soft and nasal. This morning out in the tallgrass, on a limestone ridge overlooking the old city lake west of Pawhuska, a mature bald eagle was perched atop a post oak tree, a tall and spreading oak growing directly from exposed bedrock. It’s a stately tree and a fit perch for such a regal bird. And since the eagle has remained south well into the nesting season, it’s most likely a resident with a mate and a nest nearby. I haven’t seen the nest, but I’ve seen these eagles feeding on white-tailed deer carrion . Road-killed venison, ubiquitous these days in the southern tallgrass country,provides a fitting meal for birds that like their protein in superlarge quantities. On the lake ring-necked ducks, a flock of migrants caught up in this season of restless movement, skim over the surface as they dig deeply with wings and webbed feet at air and water,laboring to get airborne.A 69 Spring’s First Warm Rain bedraggled coyote, gaunt and frayed here at the intersection of winter and spring,dashes toward the upper end of the lake,leery of the peaceful approach of my pickup truck. Often these younger animals can’t overcome the power of coyote curiosity, and they slow down to look over their shoulder or even stop for a defining glance. Not this young song dog. It’s headed for cover as if I’m part of a sheriff’s posse and it’s a cattle thief—a scenario that may be more than fantasy, considering that the surrounding pastures are dotted with newborn calves. Calving season is a time of vulnerability. Cattle sense it, coyotes know it, even the eagle in the treetop understands that scavenged beef may soon be on the menu. These thoughts are made tangible when, at the top of a draw that spills a trickle of springwater into the lake, a slight movement betrays a very young Black Angus calf. The longer I stare, the more the recently born youngster twitches nervously. However, it’s reluctant to leave the bloated carcass of its mother, now stiffened by rigor mortis with legs pointing skyward. The scene is a sad one, and I can only surmise that the cow died following the birth of the calf, and that this newborn grasps little other than to stay close to the first living creature it encountered following the womb. Hopefully, the rancher will soon discover that a cow is missing and search for her.But the timbered draw is deep and time favors fourlegged investigators.More than likely,the calf will die before it is found and coyote and eagle will feast. March 14, the day of this year’s first warm rain, could just as easily have been a day of deep snow or one of bitter north winds and bare limbs sheathed in ice. March is a schizoid season here on the prairie. But this morning the temperature is in the mid-fifties climbing toward a high in the seventies. There’s a crisp north wind, enough to create a bit of a wind chill on the higher prairie to the north, but here below the limestone-rimmed cuestas the weather’s almost balmy. The protruding limestone cap, perched atop the sloping hills like a metal roof on a grassy earthen lodge, is bluish gray, cracked and layered by years of weathering. Freezing, thawing, the hydraulic manipulation of tree roots, the steady dissolution of calcareous rock due to acidic rainfall: all have worked to sculpt this layer of stone made up of skeletons and secretions of ancient ocean creatures. Already small dark green leaves pressed against gray stone mark where stems of wild currants will soon erupt with long golden trumpet-shaped flowers, an early spring bouquet contrasting with the stark rock outcropping. 70 Spring’s First Warm Rain In places limestone islands have eroded away from the parent rock, leaving grass-encircled mounds of stone, some...


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MARC Record
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