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Ode to April

My quality of life depends a lot on how much of my time I can spend outdoors. I especially love going outside in April, when everything is greening up and the birds are in full song. Nature seems so alive this time of year. Sometimes I wish that my senses could just absorb it all!

In my conservation career, I've often had the pleasure of working in beautiful places. I remember rising early one calm, crisp April morning and walking in the darkness down a forested ridge to a high point that overlooked an Ozark stream. I was a conservation agent then, and I was staking out an area where I suspected turkey poaching might occur.

The waiting wasn't difficult. I sat spellbound among the sights, sounds, smells and feel of the woods. As the sun rose, the gorgeous, misty river valley beneath me came into view, and it wasn't long before I enjoyed a vista of Ozark mountains that stretched five or six miles in all directions.

Insects buzzed and birds sang. As if to greet the new morning, turkey hens clucked, whined and called, and gobblers quickly answered them. Often, three or four would sound off at the same time. In the early light, I spotted a huge old tom flying from the ridge top where I sat. He sailed across the river valley to a calling hen.

Wild plum, wild crab apple and redbud trees were in bloom, and the dogwood blossoms were ready to burst. It seemed like every time I glanced down I could see more tiny flowers poking up from the forest floor. I specifically recall looking up and thinking that the new leaves on the oak trees were only about the size of squirrel ears. Still, the forest seemed green and vibrant. It had shed the stark and barren look it wore all winter. I didn't catch any poachers that day, but what a wonderful morning!

I'll go to great lengths to find a secluded place to fish on a Missouri trout stream. I remember another April morning when I slipped into my hip boots and hiked along the river in the dim morning light. The streamside plants were green and lush, and so wet with dew that drops of water splattered away as I walked through them. May apples and wild ferns coated the entire river bottom. I walked for about a half an hour to reach the stretch of water I intended to fish.

The sun was just on the verge of peeking over the wooded hills surrounding the stream. I sat down on a log, thinking it would be pleasant to watch the sunrise with the stream murmuring behind me.

I remember feeling like an audience of one as wood ducks, herons, kingfishers, cardinals, mockingbirds and a host of other birds provided a steady stream of entertainment. Two bald eagles capped off the early morning show when they flew upstream and perched in a nearby sycamore tree. I can't recall how many fish I caught that day, but I remember thinking, as I stepped into the water to make the first cast, that the fishing trip was already a success.

You don't have to sit in a dark woods or hike along a mile of stream to reap similar benefits from nature. You'll find an almost infinite variety of fascinating plants and animals just by hiking a trail at an urban nature center or poking around a conservation area. The Conservation Department protects these outdoor resources and dedicates itself to providing opportunities for people to enjoy them. We know that a connection with nature can improve everyone's quality of life.

There's no better time than April to enjoy nature's awesome beauty and power, and there's no better place than Missouri to explore, and be charmed by, the outdoors.

John D. Hoskins, Director

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