On April 1, while America's service men and women were fighting and dying to bring civil rights and liberty to the oppressed people of Iraq, most Lake Genevans were shirking their right to vote.
Of Lake Geneva's 3,628 registered voters, only 1,118 fulfilled their responsibility and went to the polls, according to City Clerk Diana Dykstra. That's only 32 percent. A new meaning to April Fools Day.
Days of major significance to most folks in the lakes area are at hand.
Passover, an ancient Jewish holiday, began at sundown April 16. The holiday, which runs for eight days, marks the time thousands of years ago when Moses led the Jews out of slavery in Egypt. In today's Jewish homes, a ceremonial meal — the Seder — is served on the first night of Passover.
April 18 is Good Friday, a holy day in the Christian world. It is observed as the anniversary of the Crucifixion of Jesus.
April 20 will be Easter Sunday, the festival commemorating the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
April 27 will be Orthodox Easter Sunday.
April 1 was ice-off day. That's the first day that Geneva Lake was entirely free of ice this season, according to Ted Peters, director of the Geneva Lake Environmental Agency, which keeps records of that annual event, as well as recording the first day each winter when the lake is entirely frozen over. Mother Nature couldn't have chosen a better day for this spring's event. April 1 had the Geneva Lake area enjoying a bright sunny day with the temperature climbing to 76 degrees.
Ice data have been collected on Geneva Lake since 1862. Ted noted that during that 139-year period the average number of days with ice cover is 89 days. But over the years, the number of days with ice cover and the ice-off date have changed dramatically.
Starting around 1980, the ice-off dates have become earlier, Ted said. The most recent 10-year average breakup date was March 12, about 24 days earlier than in most of the 139-year record.
According to a study by the U. S. Geological Survey in cooperation with the Geneva Lake Environmental Agency and the Wisconsin Department of Resources, total ice duration of ice cover gradually decreased from about 110 days in 1862 to about 65 days around 1935 (caused by later freeze dates), then increased back to about 100 days around 1965. Most recently, the total duration has again become shorter, with a 10-year average of about 70 days, caused by both later freeze dates and earlier ice-off dates.
During the 1997-2001 period, the average duration was only 49 days and included two of the shortest ice durations in the 139-year period.
The most recent changes in freeze and ice-off dates and total ice duration are indicative of higher fall, winter and spring air temperatures, especially higher spring temperatures. These changes in air temperature and ice cover are consistent with what would be expected with climactic warming, according to Dale M. Robertson, of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Although the most recent data suggests warming, examination of the entire record indicates the present climate is not much different from that around 1935, except that recent spring air temperatures appear to be higher than those around 1935 and that late fall and early winter air temperatures appear to be lower than they were around 1935.
The increased number of waterfowl inhabiting Geneva Lake may be associated with the change in climate and the decreased length of ice cover, according to the Geological Survey.
FOR THE BIRDS
The first reported sighting of a Baltimore oriole this spring comes from Franklin and Hilda Karcher, W4218 S. Lake Shore Drive, Linn Township. Franklin called to report they had seen a male oriole April 5. That was several weeks before most Baltimores arrive around the first week in May. But the early sighting wasn't unusual for the Karchers. Franklin said that on April 9 in 2001 and 2002 an oriole arrived. He reported last Thursday that he and Hilda had not seen an oriole since April 5, but they saw several flickers April 6.
The Karchers put out grape jelly and sugar water for orioles each spring and Franklin said the birds are fussy and do not like the cheaper brands of jelly. The Karchers do not provide oranges, which many lakes area birders put out to attract orioles.
Baltimore orioles spend summer throughout most of the eastern United States and into Canada and winter along the U.S. gulf coast, Mexico, Central America and northern South America.
The Baltimore oriole, according to early colonial reports, was named after Englishman Cecilius Calvert, the second Lord Baltimore, who came to this country in the mid 1600s and founded the colony of Baltimore. Colonists sent back to England the skins of the beautiful orange and black birds that lived in their area and the English named the bird an "oriole" after a bird in their own country — although the European oriole is a totally different bird. The name "Baltimore" was chosen by a Swedish naturalist in 1766 because the American bird was orange and black, which were Lord Baltimore's family colors.
For centuries the Baltimore oriole has been admired for its color, song and nest-building, which were noted in the 1854 edition of "The Naturalist's Library," which was a compilation of articles by noted naturalists of the 18th and 19th centuries. Excerpts of the oriole article follow.
"From the singularity of the nest of this species, from its brilliant color, and its preferring the apple trees, weeping willows, walnut and tulip trees to build on, it is generally known; and is as usual honored with a variety of names, such as hang-nest, hanging-bird, golden robin, fire-bird, etc., but more generally the Baltimore bird. Few of the American orioles equal this in the construction of their nests; he gives them, in a superior degree, warmth, convenience and security. He generally fixes on the high bending extremities of the branches, fastening strong strings of hemp or flax round two forked twigs; with the same materials he fabricates a strong, firm kind of cloth, not unlike the substance of a hat in its raw state, forms it into a pouch 6 or 8 inches in depth, lining it substantially with soft substances well interwoven with the outward netting, and lastly finishes with a layer of horse hair; the whole being shaded from the sun and rain by a natural penthouse, or canopy of leaves.
"The birds of this species have all a common form of building, but they do not build in exactly the same manner. Great differences will be found in the style, neatness, and finishing of the nest. Some are far superior workmen to others. So solicitous is the Baltimore to produce proper materials for his nest, that the women in the country must narrowly watch the thread that may be bleaching; and the farmer must secure his young grafts, as this bird will carry off the former, and the strings that tie the latter, to serve his purposes in building.
"The principal food of the Baltimore consists of beetles, caterpillars, and bugs, particularly one of a brilliant glossy green. His song is a clear mellow whistle, repeated at short intervals, as he gleans among the branches. There is in it a certain wild playfulness and naivete extremely interesting. It is not uttered with the rapidity of our eminent songsters, but with the pleasing tranquility of a careless ploughboy, whistling merely for his own amusement. When alarmed by an approach to his nest, he makes a kind of rapid chirruping very different from his usual note. He inhabits North America, from Canada to Mexico, and is found as far south as Brazil. It is 7 inches long; the head, throat, upper part of the back and wings are black; lower part of the back and whole underparts are bright orange, deepening into vermilion on the breast; the back is also divided by a band of orange; the tail is black and orange. The plumage of the female is lighter and duller than that of the male. These birds are several years in completing their plumage."
NOT TO WORRY
Signs of spring were everywhere as this month began with warm sunny weather. But there was a quick change which inspired Dottie Swanson, 1899 Knob Road, Lyons Township, to write:
Leaves on the lilacs had begun to show.
Then came ice and heavy snow.
Will they make it through this year?
Mother Nature says, "Have no fear."