Vail’s Curious Nature: Spring comes slowly in Colorado
Vail, CO Colorado
VAIL, Colorado –Last weekend I woke up without an alarm clock in Colorado’s Vail Valley. The early morning sun whispered through my window, shone on my face and greeted me to the day. I took my time waking up, all the while observing the blue skies, bright sunshine and magpies flying from tree to tree outside my window.
“Finally,” I thought, “maybe spring is here.”
It’s no secret that springtime in Colorado comes slowly. In March we start to get antsy when warm temperatures hit our skin. And then when the snow melts in the afternoon sun, we think that winter might be over. But inevitably, spring storms arrive to dump big white flakes like we’re living in a snow globe.
There comes a point when it stops snowing in the Valley. This season holds a special place in the hearts of Coloradans. It isn’t winter anymore. Yet it’s not quite spring. It is in fact, mud season.
No matter how you feel about mud season, remember that it is a necessary transition (albeit slow) that nature must make in order to blossom into spring. Case in point, the earthworm.
By now you might have begun to notice the small earthworms strewn on sidewalks, hiking trails and in your freshly dug garden. Mud season is their favorite time of year. While we wait for mountain bike trails to dry, earthworms are already enjoying Colorado’s moist conditions.
Earthworms come to the surface during spring rains to move easily and procreate. Wet conditions also give worms a chance to move safely to new homes and break down your food scraps into rich soil. Worms breathe through their skin, which means that their skin must stay wet so that oxygen can pass through. Mud season is a great time for worms to move around above ground without dehydrating.
Acting as decomposers, breaking down dead plant and animal matter and cycling carbon and oxygen back into the soil, earthworms are helping aerate the soil by loosening it and creating air pockets so that plants can grow – in turn, getting your garden ready to be planted.
Earthworms also are a great food source for many animals including snakes, birds, moles, toads, foxes, beetles, centipedes, leeches and slugs. If it weren’t for this valuable protein source, a lot of animals might be hungry this spring. As much as earthworms are excited this transitional season, the entire animal kingdom is excited to see earthworms during mud season.
Mud season in Colorado might be rainy, dirty and chilly, but it’s worth it. As you begin to notice the green buds of aspen trees, robins returning from warmer climates and earthworms surfacing, remember to enjoy the leisurely pace of springtime. Pause to enjoy the sun on your face. Invite a friend to take a walk by the rushing river, and just like our valley, remember to take your time easing into spring.
The Gore Range Natural Science School’s Curious Nature column appears Mondays in the Vail Daily and on http://www.vaildaily.com.(www.gorerange.org)