With the last of the snow patches finally melted away, it’s time to start spring cleanup.
I get out my yard gloves, the rake, the wagon, the broom. I put on my work boots that had been languishing in a corner of my closet for the last winter months. The day cannot be called warm, exactly, but there are hints of the scent of spring in the air, and the sun high above is bright and soothing.
I do not enjoy raking. Somehow I always manage to begin the chore when it’s a windy day and I have to work twice as hard to accomplish a task that by all means should not be so complicated. But the visual reward of a clean yard is enough to keep me going even as I chase my piles of leaves around, trying to herd them like a clutter of cats.
Thankfully, today the wind is also more or less cooperative, only rising in a gentle breeze that cools the sweat of exertion rather than consistently undoing all effort.
I am crouched underneath a drooping pine tree — the lowest branches will need pruning soon — pulling wet clumps of leaves flattened by the old weight of snow and ice away from the roots when I hear a rustle behind me. I pause and check over my shoulder — no moose has sneaked up in the willow bushes behind me, thank goodness. I can’t see anyone, in fact — but I can hear them making tracks in last year’s leaf litter.
I scan the bushes for what I think must be birds scrounging around beneath them and still see nothing. I think they must be birds, as they usually are, but the sound is wrong. It’s louder, the impact of creature on ground heavier and more frenzied than a robin scratching for dinner.
My wordless question is answered a second later when three wild hares streak out from under the bushes, zigzag around the pines and disappear into another part of the woods below my work spot.
I abandon my raking, open the camera app on my phone and follow the bunnies.
The hares began appearing last year, much in the same way they have today — in multiples, chasing each other around the property and surprising me in the middle of my work.
They seem mostly unafraid of humans — I can get within 10 feet of one if I move carefully before it sprints off in another direction. They are bigger than the rabbits I raised when I was younger, but leaner and more long-legged.
This close to the arrival of spring, their fur is mottled tan and gray and patched with winter’s white. When they pause for rest from all their play, they look like round fluffy cotton bolls, ears sticking up straight and stiff like antennae.
It surprises me when they race off again and their bodies form long, agile lines that leap with ease through alder stands and over old, decaying spruce stumps.
The three of them play for a couple of hours, appearing in sight periodically as they run and run from one corner of the property to the other. I don’t get any more raking done for a while as I take advantage of every moment the hares are still long enough to photograph. The leaves aren’t going anywhere — much. This is definitely more important.
Eventually the hares stop reappearing, apparently having tired themselves out from their play. I wait another few minutes just in case, loathe to miss even the slightest sighting. Finally, I have to concede that they’ve bunkered down for the foreseeable future, and I’m not going to get any more work done standing around waiting for them to come back.
I return to my leaf piles, and it’s then that the wind picks up. The sun has disappeared behind a blanket of clouds, taking all the warmth of the earlier afternoon with it. I’ve wasted prime work hours chasing after the hares. I can’t make myself regret it.
I put away the broom, the wagon, the rake and my yard gloves. I toe off my work boots and replace them in a more-visible spot in my closet, ready for the next day of outdoor chores. And then I take out my phone again to scroll through the dozens of photos I’d taken this afternoon and pick out the best ones to share with friends and family.