A springtime school story from 2008, from when I taught ENL K-1.
Outside my window this early April morning, I see two gray squirrels playing chase. The first one goes up a tree and across a branch, then makes a daring dive to the next tree with the other in hot pursuit.
No matter how many times I witness these rituals of spring, I still watch with delight and amusement. All around males are wooing females. Squirrels play tag in the treetops. Birds mark their airy territories with song: “This branch is mine, mine, mine!”
Solitary red tail hawks pair up as the snow melts. I see them making figure eights against the wide pale sky. I spy two hawks sitting next to each other on a bare branch, a rare sight. Each bird looks away, staring in opposite directions. A mating pair, I have no doubt, and I smile at their appearance of unease, like a couple on a blind date. When the raising of the brood is over, they will return to their more accustomed solitude.
The pileated woodpeckers are back with their manic laughter echoing through the backyard woods. Looking like red-headed pterosaurs, they cling high on tree trunks, pounding away. The hammering rings out all day. Near our stream, I see a fallen tree, a victim of the recent strong winds, with fresh wood chips scattered all around. A day or two later I am surprised to see the pileated there, working at ground level, pecking away at the log.
Spring rites appear everywhere, even in the school where I work. Each day at 1:30, I collect two girls from their recess time. A few days ago, I called for Chelsea and she came to me red-faced and panting.
“What game are you playing?” I asked.
“The boys are chasing us,” she answered.
“Ah, yes,” I thought. “I remember.” When I taught second grade, I knew spring had really arrived when the boys began chasing the girls on the playground. Sometimes the chasing was couched in a current popular context: Ninja turtles, monsters, the Lion King, but it was always boys chasing girls.
And now I discover that the springtime chasing ritual belongs to the youngest students of all, the kindergarteners.
What deep human instinct surfaces in these rituals of spring? Somewhere in our large brains there’s a switch that gets turned on by longer daylight hours, the sun’s new position, the sap flowing, the birds’ return.
Even little boys and girls, years away from puberty and the tyranny of sexual hormones, feel the urge. They run and shriek back and forth across the black top. Sometimes it’s a whole pack of boys, gathering a harem on the doorstep. They even elect one boy to act as guard while the others chase down swifter females.
To me, the ritual is both astonishingly ancient, and also reassuring. The boys are chasing the girls again. It must be spring.