Wilson Kerr

Time Outdoors: The Great Awakening

April 13, 2024

By Wilson Kerr — Columnist  

New England winters are long. The cold weather seems to drag on and on, a landscape of lifeless greys and browns. It’s probably why Dunkin’ sells so many large “regulars” and maple crullers — fuel for shoveling snow and adding more seasonal insulation to our waistlines.  

But finally, in April, the Earth’s tilt gives the northern hemisphere more direct sunlight, warming the land. And nature stirs in response. After our long wait, it’s like a miracle.  


The change in seasons is an opportunity to reconnect with Earth’s rhythms and notice. In the woods, the signs of spring are now everywhere — unmistakable to the observant.   

Photo illustration by Peter Farago

Spring peepers are my favorite. These tiny frogs (Pseudacris crucifer) are, for their size, one of the loudest animals on the planet. Emerging near ponds and vernal pools, their shrill “peeps” to attract a mate can carry half a mile.

Nature’s alarm clock, signaling the awakening time, is finally here.  

Photo illustration by Peter Farago

Skunk cabbage shoots are popping up in the swamps. Using a heat-generating “thermogenetic” process to melt frozen topsoil, the plant’s emerging “spathe” part looks alien. By appearing first and dispersing their skunky, peppery smell, they attract the season’s first pollinators.  

The redwing blackbirds are back now, searching for nesting spots in the reeds. They migrate up to 800 miles northward each spring and their distinctive “conk-la-reee” is, with the peepers and skunk cabbage, an early harbinger.  

Away from the wetlands, a chorus of birdsong rewards early risers.

Amorous male cardinals herald spring’s arrival from the highest tree branches. Black-capped chickadees use their two-note spring “hail call,” and house wrens chime in with a bubbly 12-syllable melody. Orioles, sparrows, and mourning doves chime in too. And the robins are back, hopping, stopping and cocking their heads, using visual cues and vibrations to detect earthworms underground.    

Photo illustration by Peter Farago

Deciduous tree buds are starting to swell. Did you know buds are like little batteries, storing last summer’s sun energy to power their opening each spring? And the leaves inside — each a wonder in and of itself, using sunlight as fuel (with water and carbon dioxide) to produce sugars that feed the tree. Photosynthesis. And the byproduct? The oxygen we breathe.  

Photo illustration by Peter Farago

On the farms, the sugar sheds are coming down and preparations are underway for tilling and planting. Lambs are being born! In town, it’s a time of spring clean-ups and Patriots’ Day reenactments. The Red Sox are playing ball at Fenway, and Marathon Monday is nearly here.   

There is a rich, earthy scent in the air on warmer April mornings. My young daughters call this “the Florida smell,” and they love it.

The bikes are out of the basement and it’s almost time to put away the coats and boots. And the daffodils are up! Almost forgot about the bright, glorious spring flowers… Huzzah!   

Our distinct seasons allow us to experience the earth’s different moods. And after spring, the glorious summer — and that most New England of all seasonal changes: the switch from hot to iced coffee at Dunkin’.     

Until next month, I hope you will watch for and appreciate ALL the sights and sounds of spring as you spend more… Time Outdoors! You have earned it.   

Wilson Kerr lives in Concord and is an avid outdoorsman and amateur naturalist. This monthly column is written to help grow awareness of the wonders of nature. In this increasingly technology-packed world, it is important to stop and take in the beauty of our area and the animals that inhabit it. The author hopes this column will be read by families and used as a teaching tool and that you will spend more… Time Outdoors.