The scurrying figures before me are barely lit by the emerging dawn as a hint of color begins to flow across the sky. Not nearly enough light for photos, but just enough to see what’s going on – and the pictures I’m not getting. I try not to dwell on that.
Sometimes, it’s better to just listen.
Once again, the sharptail grouse, along with many other grassland birds such as prairie chickens, sage grouse and wild turkeys, are gathering on leks and booming grounds for their annual spring courtship displays. Along with the grouse, the usual multitude of sound resonates beyond the blind’s plywood walls — coyotes, turkeys, meadowlarks and more.
The prairies are dry, owing mostly to the fact that we had little or no winter this year. Already, the fire danger is making everybody nervous. Still, the unmistakable signs of spring are there: trees budding, pregnant bison cows gathering together for the coming of the calves and, of course, the grouse.
After all, spring is about resilience.
Webster’s defines resilience as “the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress.” Resilience, what an
assuring and beautiful word. It is only one of 1,000 things that I can never again take for granted, as my thoughts drift back to a recent unforgettable day.
At about 9:30 p.m. on Feb. 16, my wife, Joan, and I went to bed in one world and awoke in another. Sometime during that night, Joan suffered a massive stroke and was airlifted to Rapid City Regional Hospital. After 10 days in ICU and life-saving cranial surgery, she is now recovering in the hospital’s rehabilitation unit.
Joan’s prognosis is very good. Already, her own resilience has left the therapists shaking their heads in wonder. There are still months of rehab ahead, but we know that she will make a full recovery.
Loud squawking and the furious beat of wings suddenly knife into my thoughts, drawing my attention back to the birds. A prairie falcon has just buzzed the lek, causing a scene of panic and helter-skelter as the grouse flee in all directions. Suddenly, the lek is quiet and empty, leaving me with nothing to do but wait.
About 15 minutes later, as the morning sun emerges over the eastern ridge, the birds begin to return. There are only a few at first, but soon the lek is once again filled with activity. The grouse also know that our business lies in resilience.
Dick Kettlewell is a former Journal photographer who continues to photograph wildlife and landscapes throughout the region. His Spring Creek Chronicles is a monthly photography and column series. You can view his work at his website, www.nawild.com. Contact Dick at firstname.lastname@example.org.