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Natural Connections: Spring arrives with Lois Nestel

"Lois was the museum’s founding naturalist and director. Although we never met, I love reading her words, admiring her sketches and photographs, and learning from her quiet wisdom," writes Emily Stone.

A mourning cloak butterfly sits on a tree
Mourning cloak butterflies spend the winter as adults and are some of the first to emerge in spring.
Contributed / Emily Stone

CABLE — All the talk these days is about spring. When volunteers arrive at the museum to paint or construct or hang up something for our new exhibit (also a sign of spring!) we spend the first few minutes talking about the unbelievable warmth, arriving birds, muddy driveways, the rapidly melting snow, and the plow piles that we suspect may never melt.

With all this chatter, I found myself wanting to contemplate more quietly the things we exclaim about every spring. Going to my bookshelf, I selected a slim volume on cream-colored paper: "Wayside Wanderings" by Lois Nestel. Lois was the museum’s founding naturalist and director. Although we never met, I love reading her words, admiring her sketches and photographs, and learning from her quiet wisdom.

About spring, Lois wrote:

“Poor, weary, battered spring, after many reversals, seems to have finally arrived. The time of emergence is upon us. The hibernators are out. Chipmunks, tails straight up, scurry enthusiastically about as if checking up on last year’s unfinished business. Gophers and woodchucks search for succulent green spears or drowse dull-eyed in the sun. The deer have left their wintering yards. The tracks of bears once again mark the forest trails. Skunks dig for grubs in the softening soil and leave muddy imprints of slender paws on receding snow.

“The sap is rising in the trees. The pines have taken on a brighter, livelier hue and the buds of aspen and maple are swelling. On a recent day I watched purple finches drinking sparkling sap droplets from winter-damaged twigs of the box elders. This member of the maple family has sap only slightly less sweet than the sugar maple.


“Insects bask on sun-warmed siding, a mourning cloak butterfly, emerging from winter quarters, flutters aimlessly by and, by night, an occasional moth flutters against a lighted window.

“A swirl of warm, aroma-laden air from a hillside, a draft of cool cleanliness from a hollow may awaken vague stirrings of the spirit; yet we can only appreciate but cannot interpret, as do animals, all that the scented air contains. But thus may we, at no cost and little effort, enrich our lives; if we fail to do so we have deprived only ourselves.

“In this season, when one is keenly aware of the scents of the earth, the fragrance of spring flowers is expected and perhaps taken for granted: The delicate perfume of arbutus and the tiny white violets that grow on moist soil, the richness of wild roses and, later, the heavy fragrance of pyrolas. But there are drifts of odor so elusive that, caught with one breath they are gone the next. The faint tang of newly opening leaves defies description—a touch of spiciness, an intangible freshness that is purity, yet something more.

"In the end, the most impressive thing about my visit to the lek wasn’t the dancing birds, but the knowledge that land managers are coming together to prioritize the habitat of a fascinating but declining bird. And it’s working," writes Emily Stone.
"Reaching peak performance on the damp soil and extreme cold of Alaskan and Canadian floodplains, balsam poplars survive the farthest north of any American broadleaf tree," writes Emily Stone.
"Foxes can interrupt the Lyme bacteria’s cycle by reducing the numbers of mice and chipmunks available for the ticks to feed on," writes Emily Stone.
"I just learned that the birds themselves tune up their ears in the spring," writes Emily Stone.
Edward O. Wilson, a revered ecologist and champion of biodiversity, hypothesized that our love of nature has helped humans survive, and helps us feel connected to all life.
"Prairie chickens and sharp-tailed grouse both start their breeding season with the avian version of a night club," writes Emily Stone.

“There’s a new note in the woodlands these days. It comes, in part, from those noisy beauties, the blue jays. Their extensive repertoire includes the usual raucous cries of “jay, jay” intermingled with clickings and grindings, a shrill hawk-like cry, strange bell tones, and a variety of whistles. Now, though, we hear in addition low, sweet warblings and see the swaggering showoff sidling up a branch to diffidently offer a choice seed or other tidbit to another of their kind. The reason is obvious. The courting season is at hand and neither snow nor cold can long discourage it.

“Other of our resident birds are sharing the same inclination. Increasingly as spring comes on we hear the sweet two-toned call of the chickadee, a drawn-out sound that seems to say “phoebe,” but in a different way from the bird of that name.

Emily Stone mug
Emily Stone
Contributed / Emily Stone

“There will be days when spring turns her face away, but her feet are set firmly upon the path and she will progress in her own time. Who are we to insist that the weather meet our demands? We would appreciate the warmth and beauty less if we had not endured the harsher elements. To be aware of the joy and beauty of each day, each season, is the fulfillment of a rich and exciting life.”

Thanks for sharing your wisdom, Lois. May all of our lives be as rich and exciting as the one you once lived day by beautiful day.

Emily’s award-winning second book, Natural Connections: Dreaming of an Elfin Skimmer, is now available to purchase at www.cablemuseum.org/books and at your local independent bookstore, too.


For more than 50 years, the Cable Natural History Museum has served to connect you to the Northwoods. The museum is closed for construction of our new exhibit: The Northwoods ROCKS! It will open on May 2. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and cablemuseum.org to see what we are up to.

Emily Stone is a naturalist and the education director at the Cable Natural History Museum.
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