By now, the flowering trees have mostly done their thing: the magnolias by the Scudder Plaza swimming hole have dropped their petals into a slippery mess, but they were great while they lasted. The ethereal archway of flowering pear trees along Witherspoon Street is now just fresh leaves. The cherry tree in our backyard exploded into blossoms in a single day. According to my wife’s records, this happened about 10 days later than it did last year, further evidence that spring was a bit overdue.
One downside of all this burgeoning plant life is that the lawn has started to grow like crazy as well, along with a healthy crop of dandelions, and everything has to be mowed frequently; if one lets it slide for a couple of days too long, there’s a danger that small children will get lost in it. Of course if we continue to get rain all the time, that will make the grass grow even faster while preventing me from mowing it often enough.
Spring is an active time on the wildlife front as well. We haven’t had deer on our property for several years now; we sometimes wonder whether that’s the natural cycle of life, or the unhappy result of hostile action by the deer police. But there are plenty of birds and of course uncountable squirrels to entertain the family cat.
Canada geese, which are pretty much permanent residents of the area, appear to be getting ready for new family members; it’s quite common to see a pair with one standing guard while the other sits quietly on the ground in the hatching position. Soon there will be a bunch of new geese, which are very cute when they’re young; unfortunately they rapidly become adults with the same unpleasant habits as their parents. When I was a kid growing up in Canada, one normally saw Canada geese only as they flew south for the winter and back north in the spring. They were mysterious and magical — amazing flying machines. The latter is still true, but as year-round residents and pests, they are now anything but magical.
One good place to watch wildlife is the pair of paths that run along Lake Carnegie, between the lake and Faculty Road. (I will defer discussion of wildlife on the Street for another time.) Not far east of Washington Road, and easily seen from the paths, there’s a small island in the lake. A group of Canada geese hangs out there, making a great racket almost all the time. I can’t see what they’re excited about, though perhaps it’s some kind of turf thing with the other big birds in the same area. Those look like cormorants, though I’d be happy to have a bird expert correct me. They spend most of their time standing on dead logs, gazing silently out at the lake. I’ve seen an occasional heron in the area as well, usually gliding along a few inches above the lake surface, and I think that I spotted one of the local eagles a couple of weeks back, though it was so high up that I couldn’t be sure.
To me, turtles are the most interesting wildlife in the lake area. If the weather is warm and sunny, turtles like to bask on the half-submerged logs. I’ve seen as many as 30 on a single log, packed side by side as close together as they can get. Many of them are quite substantial, a foot or more in diameter, and a few are noticeably bigger. Again, I’m no expert, but the majority appear to be snapping turtles. Not that I propose to move in for a close-up inspection; snappers really do bite, and they don’t seem to have pleasant personalities either. On the other hand, these turtles are skittish, and it’s hard to sneak up on them even to take a picture. The slightest sound or movement leads to a mass dive into the lake, leaving the logs bare — it’s turtles all the way down.
Fall in Princeton is nice, but spring is the best. The weather is getting warmer, the world is young again and everyone can look forward to the end of classes and exams. But it’s too short. Reunions and graduation will come and go in a flash and then it will be hot and humid summer.
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles to-day
To-morrow will be dying.
Brian Kernighan GS ’69 is a computer science professor and a Forbes faculty adviser. He can be reached at email@example.com.