Like this spring so far, it appears the spring of 1823 was slow to arrive in the Upper Great Lakes. We know this through the journaling of Henry Rowe Schoolcraft who noted on March 26th that year that â??winterâ?|[is showing]â?|signs of relaxing its iron grasp, although the quantity of snow on the ground is still very great, and the streams appear to be as fast locked in the embraces of frost as if it were the slumber of ages.â??
On April 1 he penned, â??The ice and snow begin to be burthensome to the eye.â?? He recorded a Chippewa allegory of winter and spring, personified by an old man and a young man. They lived at opposite ends of the world and both boasted of their powers. â??Winter blew his breath and the streams were covered with ice. Spring blew his breath and the land was covered with flowers.â?? Every year the old man is eventually conquered â??and vanishes into thin air.â?? In Upper Michigan during many years, old man winter is not so much conqueredâ??he just grudgingly gives up and shuffles awayâ??slowly.
As April advanced and winter held on, Schoolcraft speculated that certain species of birds extended their migrations farther south during severe winters. He arrived at this theory after an Indian boy shot an unusual â??yellow and cinereousâ?? bird with an arrow at one of the sugar camps. The boy brought the bird to Schoolcraft who felt it was a member of the grosbeak species. The Chippewa, he learned, called it â??Pas hun damoâ?? or a bird with stoutness of bill, able to break surfaces. The bird was sent off to New York where it was determined to be, as Schoolcraft conjectured, an evening grosbeak.
Horse trains were still able to cross the river on April 8. Schoolcraft noted that â??the night temperature is still quite wintry,â?? however, the rising angle of the April sun could â??be sensibly felt during the middle and after part of the day.â?? The river could still be crossed on the 11th but by the 12th the ice was so bad â??that no persons have ventured to cross.â?? The sound of the Rapids of St. Mary became a little deeper and louder each day and bare ground began to appear, but the snow still lay deep in the woods. On the 14th, Schoolcraft spotted a robin and gray ducks appeared in the rapids two days later. Large bare spots were carved out by the sun and on April 19 â??the first canoe crossed the riverâ?|although ice stillâ?| [lined]â?|each shoreâ?|for several hundred yards in width.â?? Characteristic of Upper Michigan weather, the ascent to spring took a slide backwards on the 22nd with a late-season snowstorm.If you observe closely, you will also notice similar signs of spring appearing over the next few weeks. There will be setbacks. In fact, it looks like a major one next week. A pool of very cold air over northwest North America (Image 2 above) will dive southeastward and should be nearly overhead on Monday. No foolinâ??, April will start on a wintry note.