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Nature’s Transformation Has Begun With Winter Finally Behind Us

We are gratefully sliding from April into May. Frankly, I am happy to see April headed toward the rear-view mirror. It, along with March, was unseasonably cold and snowy. I have been joking with friends that 2018 saw the creation of a “fifth season” non-affectionately referred to as “sprinter.”

The last week has finally seen warmer temperatures reaching the 60s. Coupled with sunshine, the spectacular transformation to green has begun. Aided by the unseasonably wet March and April, the fields and lawns are becoming green.

The first weeks of May bring us to the midpoint between the Vernal Equinox and the Summer Solstice. Each day, we inch closer to summer and the visible changes in the landscape are jumping out at us. The family calendar of activities increases as well, and many of us are now in full-bore outdoors mode. The merry month of May begins this week, and here are some of the things I most enjoy about it.

Nesting birds are already singing their morning songs to herald the rising sun and claim territories. I hope you enjoyed the peaceful and quiet morning slumbers of winter, because sleep will soon be interrupted with the May dawn chorus of avian alarm clocks. By early morning, the hungry hatchlings will be impatiently peering over nest rims, waiting for food delivery. There is something about seeing baby birds with mouths agape. Their countenance is both hopeful for a morsel of food and indignant at the delay.

If you have a vegetable garden, you have probably already begun to work the soil for seeds and plants. I finally tilled my garden April 22 – Earth Day. I worked in compost of chopped up leaves and horse manure and spread ground limestone to sweeten the soil. At this writing my garden lays patiently waiting seeds and plants. Peas will go in soon, followed by seeds of radish, bean, carrot, squash, beet and potatoes. Tomato, pepper, sweet potato and basil plants will go in when the soil warms — usually after Mother’s Day.

Unfortunately, springtime outdoor activities bring the unwanted companionship of black flies. They’ve been around for about 180 million years, since the mid-Jurassic period, and it’s heartening to know they tormented dinosaurs, too. If you want to avoid their painful bite, it is best to cover arms, legs and neck. Hats with netting to cover the face and neck are also handy when the black flies are most active, and while not the most elegant of headgear, a face full of black fly welts is far less becoming.

Hillside views are almost as beautiful in May as they are in the fall. A wide spectrum of soft pastel colors from white to every shade of green envelops our valleys when the blossoms and leaves of deciduous trees first emerge. By early June the fully-formed leaves are all the same bright green contrasting with the darker year-round green of the conifers. The mix of May colors is fleeting, so enjoy it while it lasts.

This month, the grass in our back pasture will be long enough to turn the horses out. Each morning I see them craning their necks over the gate sniffing the emerging sweet grass. By spring’s end, the horses will have shed their thick winter coats and their summer colors of chestnut and golden palomino will gleam in the sun.

Mother’s Day is May 13, so be on the lookout for lilacs in bloom. There is nothing like a bouquet of fresh cut lilacs in the house for Mother’s Day. The whole house will fill with the amazing scent.

Memorial Day is May 29, and a bouquet of late-May blooming iris and peony can be added to flags decorating the graves of our fallen heroes. We have two patches of peony, and I usually cut long stems of them for a bouquet. Like the lilac, they too have a wonderful scent. If you’re picking peony flowers, remember to remove any ants hiding among the petals. Ants feed on the sweet sticky covering of the peony flower bud, which helps the flower open. Ants and peonies are an interesting example of a beneficial partnership between the plant and insect kingdoms.

If you’re looking for information about things to do during the spring season, then TLGV’s Spring Outdoors program of events, hikes, walk, paddles and more is your resource to get you outdoors. The program continues until the Summer Solstice in June.

Several of TLGV’s partners have organized programs and you’ll find opportunities for enjoying programs and outings at numerous locations throughout the National Heritage Corridor including:

– U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project area at Buffumville Dam in Charlton

– James L. Goodwin Conservation Center in Hampton

– Connecticut Audubon Grassland Bird Conservation Center in Pomfret

– Joshua’s Trust land trust properties in Lebanon and Chaplin

– Samuel Huntington Homestead Museum in Scotland

There are still many paddles, bike rides, arboretum tours, cleanups and much more happening between now and the start of summer. It’s a perfect way to get outdoors in spring and learn about the amazing natural and cultural resources that make living in this region so special.

May is almost here. We finally made it through winter. The world is green, nature abounds, and the hopefulness of new life launches from nests, pokes furry noses from dens and slowly rises from the soil to the life-giving sun.

We live in a beautiful region full of natural and cultural wonders. I hope you’ll join me as we Spring Outdoors and find new ways to care for, enjoy and pass on this place we call The Last Green Valley.

Bill Reid is the Chief Ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor and has lived in the region for more than 35 years. He can be reached at bill@tlgv.org.