Early case of Spring Fever

Blue skies and sunshine brings on a bout of Spring Fever in early March.

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A young fox yawns in the sunshine near North Powder.

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Lizards make their homes in sandy banks at the Wallula Unit of the McNary Wildlife Refuge.

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A great blue heron spears a fish at Hood Park on the Snake River.

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A waxwing flutters after bugs at Rooks Park.

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A young black bear digs for grubs near Lick Creek Trail in the North Fork Umatilla River Wilderness.

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An osprey dines on fish near the Walla Walla River.

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Ducks head into a thicket at Rooks Park.

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Nora cools her feet at Sanctuary Pond at the Wallula Unit of the McNary National Wildlife Refuge.

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Three young racoons await their mother's return on Mill Creek near Rooks Park.

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Young great horned owls peer down from their cliffside nest at Bennington Lake.

On Sunday, the fourth day of March, 2012, blue skies and sunshine warmed the cockles of my heart.

Actually, I looked up that saying a few years ago. Google found it in a 2002 edition of "World Wide Words," a free weekly e-magazine written by Michael Quinion about "international English from the British viewpoint."

Alas, Quinion didn't know the original meaning of the saying, so it remains a bit fuzzy.

"We do know that the expression turns up first in the middle of the seventeenth century, and that the earliest form of the idiom was rejoice the cockles of one's heart," Quinion wrote.

Quinion also wrote that the British once ate cockles, a bivalve mollusk (scallops, clams, oysters, mussels, etc., with hinged shells), as a significant part of their diet.

Despite its fuzzy character, the idiom has assumed a specific meaning, according to Quinion: "Something that warms the cockles of one's heart induces a glow of pleasure, sympathy, affection, or some such similar emotion."

Well, that may sound a bit sappy.

Nevertheless, the sunshine made me feel A-OK. I looked forward to warm days and nights when wildflowers bloom, knock-kneed young deer and elk browse in the forest, trout jump in high-mountain streams and skinny black bears prowl the canyons.

As I relaxed with Nora the Schnauzer I recollected why spring warmed the cockles of my heart, or whatever:

On Lincton Mountain Road, up from Milton-Freewater, Darlene, Nora and I passed yellow balsamroot blooming thick on hillsides, mountain bluebirds perching on fence posts, deer browsing serenely on high ridges.

Then, near the top, a momma bear with two cubs bustled into a thicket.

Speaking of bears, one bright spring afternoon a skinny cinnamon-colored one turned over rocks for grubs way off on a slope near the Lick Creek Trailhead out on McDougal Road. Nora and I hiked along a parallel ridge for photos.

Another time, on Summit Road, a young black bear dashed in front of us and charged up a bank before I could lift the camera.

Once, we surprised three cow elk and two wobbly calves on Highway 204 near Spout Springs. One cow scowled indignantly when I aimed a camera as they faded into the woods.

Outside of Dayton, we once watched a badger scamper down a ditch beside Patit Creek Road. It scooted into a hole and peeped out with one good eye to check for danger.

I snapped several photos.

At Hood Park on the Snake River near Burbank, we stopped for Nora to go. Thirty yards away, a great blue heron speared a fish. I took 25 photos as it strode to shallow water, slammed the fish down, turned it head first and swallowed it.

While I walked Nora off of the Tucannon River Road near Camp Wooten, a pileated woodpecker pounded its beak into the bark of a pine tree. I clicked off a few frames.

Other pileated woodpeckers appeared along the South Fork Walla Walla River Trail and along the Lake Creek Trail, off of Summit Road.

One April day, three young red foxes stared at me from in a barrow pit on the Anthony Lakes road near North Powder. They ogled patiently when I turned around, stopped and took photos for half an hour.

Closer to home, an osprey nipped bites from a Walla Walla River Trout near McDonald Road. Osprey with young sat for weeks in a high nest visible from Highway 12 near Lowden.

Baby great horned owls drew attention and grew up in a hole on the bank above the Bennington Lake parking area.

I spent pleasant hours snapping waxwings that fluttered after insects near the bridge at Rooks Park.

A duck with 12 ducklings spent several days along the stream and in the park.

A raccoon family, with three little ones, surprised Nora and me several times near Rooks Park on our early morning walks.

Hummph.

Nora pawed at my arm.

I opened one eye.

"I better take Nora for a walk," I said to Darlene, who folded clothes beside the dryer.

"The Wallula lizards should be sunning today," she said.

Good idea.

So, we went.

The sky remained blue at the Wallula Unit of the McNary Wildlife Refuge.

Darlene opened her book.

Despite the sunshine, a harsh, cold wind whipped up the gorge. I donned my stocking cap and walked to the cliffs with Nora. I spent half-an-hour photographing sunning lizards.

On the way back, Nora waded knee-deep into Sanctuary Pond. I shivered. The wind had chilled my warm feelings about a looming springtime.

Brrrrr!

Contact Don Davis at dondavis@wwub.com. More of Don's photos can be found online at www.tripper.smugmug.com .

If You Go

Blue Mountain back roads, often accessible with passenger cars, provide access to scenic views and many hiking trails with an abundance of wildflowers and wildlife viewing opportunities.

Popular drives include Jubilee Lake Road, Balloon Tree Road and Summit Road, off of Oregon Highway 204, along with Tiger Canyon to Skyline Drive up Mill Creek Road. Information and maps may be acquired at the Walla Walla Ranger District Office at 1415 West Rose, Walla Walla (509-522-6290).

Information about hikes and roads may also be fond at www.fs.usda.gov/recmain/umatilla/recreation or by looking up Umatilla National Forest recreation with Google.

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