More Evidence of Nature’s Resilience



I’m always amazed at how I continually gain new information from land that I have walked over for three-fourths of a century now. On the first warmish March day of this beastly cold year, I strolled out over the pasture field by the pond. The ground was still frozen hard to the very surface but there was no snow on most of it. The pond was still frozen too. In fact just three nights previously, the temperature had been below zero. A flock of robins was hopping around on the frozen ground— I am tempted to call it tundra— and I was wondering if they were starving to death looking for worms. I walked towards them and to my amazement I discovered that the pasture surface was alive with little spider-like insects. The robins were darting about, gobbling them up. They weren’t starving; they were joyfully committing gluttony!

I am hoping some of you might be able to tell me the name of these bugs. They varied from pea size to a bit larger, brownish-black, an arachnid I am almost sure, but so fast it was hard to get a good look at them. They would scurry up over the dead grass as I shuffled along and then disappear into the turf again. I thought about snow fleas but these bugs were quite different. They were much too nondescript to identify from any of my bug books.

I did learn, as I tried to identify this mystery, that snow fleas, a form of springtail, contain an antifreeze protein that enables them to operate in sub-zero temperatures. How about that? I wonder if the mystery spiders were so endowed and had wintered under the nearby woodland leaves or under logs or bark or even under the dead pasture grass and needed only a sudden increase in air temperature to become active.

I sometimes get criticized for over-emphasizing the amazing resilience of nature and in that way give human society an excuse to gloss over or justify activity that threatens the environment. There’s some truth to that criticism, I suppose, but in these days of excessive paranoia, I think well-meaning people are becoming more overwrought than necessary at the dangers human activity exerts on wildlife. Nature is one tough old bitch. When I got back to the house from my pasture adventure, I spied another example. Despite the crushing burden of some of the coldest weather in history and below zero nights just three days earlier, guess what. There were winter aconites blooming along the south wall of the house. A clump of snowdrops close by were budded out and ready to open. I could not believe my eyes. The house foundation had evidently kept the soil right next to it unfrozen— even though it was frozen just three inches away. Zero temperatures returned briefly after that, but when warmer weather returned the flowers bloomed merrily away even farther out in the yard.

What a lift to an old farmer who had been going to the barn every day through this arctic weather and was tempted to think that maybe spring would never come again. Cheer up, gang. The world’s not over just yet. And I bet if it comes down to who is going to outlast whom, the flowers will bloom and the bugs zoom even as humans head for doom.


Wonderful vignette. Our robins didn’t show up until there was some open ground but they have been voracious predators the last couple days. Your meditation on resilience reminded me of one of my favorite winter reads…Winter World by Bernd Heinrich.

I so enjoy reading this blog, and the people who write in to it. Thanks for the link, Betty, it was very informative. It’s refreshing to know there are other people who get excited when they seen new things in old places, and realize they might be old things that they’ve just noticed. I will be watching and reading this summer to see if our deep winter has killed off any of our recent pests like the emerald ash borer.

And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn,
would scarcely know that we were gone.

“There Will Come Soft Rains” Sara Teasdale

The days are longer and the angle of the sun has changed. Tomorrow is the first day of a much needed spring. I enjoyed your interview on the Chelsea Green site.

And I bet
if it comes

is going to outlast whom,

the flowers will bloom
and the bugs zoom
even as humans
head for doom.

(a humble experiment in visualizing how that final line reads in my head…as pure poetry)

When I get down and really look hard at a section of ground it always amazes me just how much activity there is between so many species I often overlook normally and how resilant plants and animals can be.Take a piece of ground bulldoze it off to bare earth come back in 5 years and it’ll be full of plants and animals of all types as you said Nature Marches On.

I never thought I would consider becoming a “snowbird”. You know, one of those older folks that flee winter to the warmer climes of our southern states.
I love the idea of snuggling in and baking pumpkin bread and hearty stews as the temperatures plummet but this year I did not look forward to rain, or mud or snow or temperatures cold enough to freeze the pump on the well. And I was right. It was downright nasty out there and just when I thought I couldn’t take any more my chickens started laying more, the sun poked it’s sunny rays through the gray clouds and just like that the snow drops popped out to give me hope.
The seed catalogs have arrived, in fact my first seed order has arrived and I’m planning a boy scout merit badge around the garden activities this year. There’s the county fair to consider and raspberries to prune. Soon the summer temperatures will rise enough to ripen the blackberries and I’ll be complaining the sun’s too hot for picking. But visions of jelly dance in my head and I’ll get out there with my old garden hat to shade me while the grandkids chuckle at my eccentricities. I’ll get the last laugh at Christmas time, though when they get their dozen jars of Nana’s blackberry jelly under the tree bringing memories and a taste of summer’s heat to their tongues.
No, I’m not a snowbird. Spring and summer are all the sweeter because the bitterness of winter has passed and I’ve survived it another year.

The birds must love your snow spiders, especially the English Robins shown in your photo, which flew more than 3,000 miles from their homeland to enjoy the feast of tiny arachnids. Don’t tell any Ohio birders, or your peaceful farm will be trampled to death by ornithological visitors toting binoculars and spotting scopes.

Yesterday I lunched with our mutual friends David and Elsie Kline, then drove them out to Funk Bottoms Wildlife Area, where several hundred Tundra Swans, many Canada Geese, and thousands of diving ducks were resting and refueling in the flooded farm fields. I imagine that the scene is similar at Killdeer Plains, just down the road from your farm.

Encouraging article. I agree, nature is much more resilient than first thought would indicate. After all, she’s had millions of years to prepare herself. All the more reason to respect her.

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