Aspens leaves unfurl in bright green shades against the spring sky. (Katie Klingsporn/WyoFile)

I can’t see the meadowlark, but its song somehow fills the whole greening landscape in this curve of the highway, those tiny lungs producing enough melody to blanket the irrigated fields below, the little ridge beyond, even the dome of sky above.

Underneath its song is a clatter of other bird calls. The most notable is a chorus of red-winged blackbirds, whose chuttering reminds me of little robots. Crows holler from a rock outcropping and a magpie teases from the trees near the creek. 

Listening to this cacophony, I wonder if it’s just me, or if there are more birds out than ever this spring. Maybe I don’t normally spend enough time on my own to notice it? Or, more likely, the small miracles of nature cut a sharper relief against the recent grim backdrop.

Whatever it is, Wyoming’s air this spring seemed to be especially saturated in birdsong. Flickering wings darting everywhere in the periphery. The robins cheeping at twilight. The chickadees waking me at dawn, their “hey sweetie” call an effective alarm clock, even when I am not ready to get up.

A robin perches on a power line as storm clouds gather. (Katie Klingsporn/WyoFile)

While driving near Arapaho, I see a sandhill crane in a field, and it’s so large I mistake it at first for farm equipment. A crew of evening grosbeaks visits my feeder, a Western tanager lands on the fence and house finches hop around the yard, their red caps brilliant against the grass. Great blue herons soar cool and aloof above. A flock of white pelicans parks on a pond along the highway. In a stately cottonwood in the park, I spot a great-horned owl with two fluffy chicks. 

Out there, the rites of spring continue. 

In the human world, of course, nothing feels normal. A cascade of terrible news pours from pages, screens and speakers. 

I am here, 12 weeks on, realizing that what seemed like a novel break from my routine at the office is becoming my full-time program. The panic that invaded my dreams at the beginning has subsided into low-level dread as we continue to rethink our world and absorb fresh disturbing developments by the day. 

My toddler daughter, who hasn’t been to daycare in months, obsessively “reads” her picture book featuring babies smiling baby faces. I think she misses her friends. 

My husband, a police officer, dons gun and badge and heads out on patrol. 

He ventures out each shift, mixing with the community he serves — duty doesn’t stop for disease. That was worrisome enough. Now, as the country roils with unrest in the wake of the terrible police killing of George Floyd, his position is more fraught than ever. I am pinned between dismay at man’s inhumanity to man, and fear for my husband’s safety. 

Mask on, I head out to grocery shop. I wonder what social cues and communication aids will be lost in this new faceless paradigm. When the state begins reopening, I meet friends outside, tentatively. After the gatherings, the guilt that I have done something risky conflicts with the physical sensations of joy I’m experiencing. Is my brain flooded with dopamines from the simple act of human contact? But did I also just put myself, or someone else, at risk of contracting the virus?

My problems, of course, are not singular or special. 

At work, I talk to people on the phone, send emails, listen to press conferences, read commenters’ thoughts and soak in the stories of Wyoming and the world. 

The picture they paint is not pretty. Sickness, unemployment, fear, outrage, injustice, disappointment and occasionally even despair. I don’t have to detail it here. Everyone is touched by this. 

At some point in the crisis, I came across a quote. “Who knows if birds are not a collection of all or our sorrows,” it said. I wrote it down, but have forgotten who said it or where. Still, when I grow uneasy and head outside for solace, my thoughts return to the sentiment.

The Middle Fork of the Popo Agie river swells with spring runoff as it flows through Sinks Canyon State Park. (Katie Klingsporn/WyoFile)

Out there, rhythms of nature march on. The rhubarb unfurls, the tulips pop, the lilacs bloom and then sag. Oyster mushrooms erupt from the stump by the river, aspens color the river bottoms in riotous smudges of chartreuse and the rivers roar with snowmelt. In my garden, beneath the chorus of birds, I thin the greens, watch my radishes grow, then unearth them, plump globes so red they look synthetic. I pull bindweed, and then I pull some more. 

Spring in Wyoming is glorious. It’s also oblivious to models and data, upheaval and the absolute pandemonium caused by a tiny invisible virus. And when the human story becomes intolerable, Wyoming’s landscape offers a touch of relief from it all. 

The bargaining stage of this grief process is over. Things are never going to be the same. But when the world is least recognizable, the company of swallows looping over the river offers a momentary touchstone. 

Out there, the meadowlarks sing their guts out and the sparrows bathe in puddles left by a recent storm. Wildflowers blanket the high country, seasons march forward and nature reminds us of cycles, resilience and the hardships creatures have endured since the dawn of time. 

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Katie Klingsporn

Katie Klingsporn is WyoFile's managing editor. She is a journalist and word geek who has been writing about life in the West for 15 years. Her pieces have appeared in Adventure Journal, National Geographic...

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12 Comments

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  1. Beautifully written and so evocative of everything we’ve been experiencing this spring. The beauty around us as our state awoke from winter , the longing for connection, the anxieties that follow every contact with others…you captured it so well, Katie!

  2. Read this and burst out crying. I’m here in London, UK, where I must go to YouTube to hear the sound of a Western Meadowlark. Been hear a few years. I come from Laramie. Anytime anyone asks me where I’m from I answer, “I’m a Democratic voter from Wyoming.” Homesick? Always. I really need to actively subscribe to Wyofile instead of relying on emails from you. It’s important to keep up with what’s happening there. As much as I love the sky and the wind, there is clearly more happening there that’s serious, even beyond this virus. . Stay healthy, everyone. Be well. Give my love to the sky, please and to all those stars I can’t see here in London, but I know they must still be there. Thank you.

    1. Such poetic writing, love the “ rhubarb unfurls, “ and “ sparrows splash in puddles”
      There are meadowlarks here in Colorado where I now live after (38 years in Laramie …); but I do miss the openness and beauty of Many parts of Wyoming…. this was a wonderful,piece of writing. About birds and the solace of nature.. we certain,y need both now more than ever. keep,writing.!

  3. Beautiful piece, rings true for many of us, even if from the swampy south by the ocean here in Florida. Thanks for the imagery and heartfelt sentiments.

  4. Very nice, thank you for this essay never more thankful to live in Wyoming than now, for so many reasons.

  5. Excellent piece….You do have all those birds, Wyoming in its majesty, family and friends. Much to be thankful for.

  6. Our former 38 years of residence in Wyoming bring back to memory a slightly different collection of bird songs, but we miss those songs and their peculiarities. Wyomingites seem a bit more distant from the immediacy of the pandemic, but you clearly have extra concerns, what with your husband and little tyke at home. Our distancing seems more severe and necessary in our more crowded city.
    But how we miss Wyoming! Our life there seems like another country. I tell friends here, Wyoming is all about sunlight and solitude. It’s opposite here. As you can tell from these remarks, more than a little incoherence is now a part of our everyday life. Please continue your writing and concerns about Wyoming.

    1. Though your essay expresses the concern we all feel, your words are as much of a solace as the bird songs are. Thank you Katie.