Spring approaches, but plenty to do in February

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Spring approaches, but plenty to do in February

Winter is a guest that stays beyond its welcome, and I am not complaining merely of cold and thaw, thaw and cold. I dislike the loneliness of winter, the flowerlessness of the ground. I miss the birds.”

– Donald Culross Peattie, “An Almanac for Moderns”

I enjoy the cold season, especially February. It is the shortest of our 12 months and comes in the middle of winter. My outdoor adventures are heightened in winter. I enjoy skiing and snowshoeing and, even with shorter daylight hours, there is always something to see and find in the woods, forests and fields. Here is a sampling of why I enjoy February in The Last Green Valley.

February gives us Washington and Lincoln’s birthdays (now celebrated as Presidents Day) and don’t forget Valentine’s Day. However, my favorite February celebration is the start of maple sugar season. Here in Southern New England the sugar season starts earlier than in northern states like Vermont. If you’re a Connecticut maple producer, you’re getting ready for the first run of sap in February.

For the past 10 years or more I have helped my friend, Steve Broderick, tap his sugar maple trees — a task I thoroughly enjoy. He has a nice operation in a sugar bush he has maintained for several years. At this writing he is in the woods repairing the lines of tubing and preparing for the first run of sweet sap. He plans “tapping weekend” for the first or second weekend of the month – weather and forecast permitting.

We have ventured into his sugar bush to tap in varied conditions from sunny warm days to cloudy cold days and have even tapped wearing snowshoes due to the foot or more of fresh snow. My favorite tapping days are when the afternoon temperature rises above freezing just enough for the sap to appear out of the tap hole as soon as the drill bit has completed its work. Before I can tap the spout into place out flows a bit of sap. Now, that is a sweet harbinger of a spring season to come.

On late February mornings I listen to the first soft notes of an amorous male black-capped chickadee with his “fee-bee, fee-bee” song. The first calls are only a warmup, practicing his song for the months ahead. They are not the only birds to begin singing again – something we have missed most winter mornings. Tufted titmouse and nuthatch will start calling as well. Before you know it, March will roll in, then April and our returning migrator song birds will join the chorus.

In January The Last Green Valley’s resident bald eagles were busy repairing their large nests and performing aerial courtship rituals, chasing and swooping together. Many will lay eggs in February, and by late March and early April the white downy fuzzy balls of eaglets will appear. By the time they fledge in June they’ll be the size of their parents, more than 30 inches in length with a wingspan of almost seven feet.

Eagles aren’t the only animal breeding during the cold winter season. Red and gray fox are also active in attracting a mate with kits arriving by early spring. The male fox may live and hunt alone most of the year, but once cold weather arrives, he’s out looking for a mate to settle down with and raise young. When the kits are born he’ll be very busy providing food until summer when they are old enough to strike out on their own.

Next Saturday is Groundhog Day and, according to legend, if the chubby marmot pokes his head from his burrow and sees his shadow, he’ll hop back in his hole to return to snoozing for several more weeks of winter. We have a woodchuck who lives in our back field. He burrowed under a pile of old rocks left by farmers of decades past. He is now quite happily snug and hibernating, but I’ll be on the lookout for him next Saturday. I like winter and hope he sees his shadow.

On Feb. 9 our region is host to two fun winter events, Putnam’s Fire & Ice Valentine Festival and Romantic Willimantic’s Annual Chocolate Festival.

Fire & Ice is from noon to 9 p.m. and includes professional ice carving demonstrations, amateur ice sculpting, fire dancers, special sales and shopping events, and of course fabulous food and drink provided by the restaurants in Putnam. The event is put on by the Putnam Business Association.

Romantic Willimantic’s Annual Chocolate Festival includes the Cupid Made Me Do It 2 Mile Urban Challenge, (registration starts at 8:30 a.m.), Let Them Eat Cake! Baking Contest (drop off cakes from 9-10 a.m.), and Chocolate Chip Stroll from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. with local businesses opening their doors with free chocolate samples and menu specials. Check out the Willimantic Downtown website for more information at:

http://www.willimanticdowntown.org/Events/UpcomingEvents.asp

There you have it – many reasons to enjoy and celebrate the amazing month of February. We live in a beautiful region called The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor. Every month and every season provides another reason to be thankful for being part of The Last Green Valley — it’s where we live. I hope you’ll join me and many others as we care for it, enjoy it and pass it on.

Bill Reid is 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.

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