The First Signs of Spring
I have been thinking about the approach of spring. The Vernal Equinox is just days away (March 19), but winter has hardly been what we usually associate with the cold months of the year.
Woe to the ice fisherman this winter with very little ice on our ponds and lakes. I have friends who live at Roseland Pond in Woodstock, and they have reported “ice on” and then “ice out” about five times during the past few months. I judge the harshness of the winter by how often I have had to plow my driveway. I do it myself with our farm tractor and to date the tractor has left the barn once. Only one time, weeks ago, was there “plowable” snow.
I do like winter and snow and always get a thrill when a “Nor’easter” blizzard dumps a foot or more of the white stuff. I love to see the snow drifts against the side of the house and barn. Mother nature makes her winter proclamation that she is in charge around here, closing schools for the day, dispatching town road crews out with large sand and plow trucks, and sending us to the market for bread and milk. There is something about “us against the elements” during a blizzard that is exciting. So far, we have missed all that fun this year. Winter has been a lamb. Will March continue the trend or go out like a lion?
This year the signs of spring’s pending arrival have already appeared at my house. The morning of Feb. 8 was sunny and cold as I walked the back pasture with my dog to see who might be out-and-about. For me, birds are often the first signals of seasonal change. That morning I heard somewhere in a nearby tree a male downy woodpecker doing his Buddy Rich impersonation. No one could do a tight snare-drum roll like Buddy – but that woodpecker sure had him beat with his quick staccato drumming against the tree trunk announcing his territory and telling Ms. Woodpecker spring is near.
We enjoy seeing most winter birds at our feeders. Black-capped chickadee, downy, hairy and red-bellied woodpeckers, nuthatch, an assortment of sparrows, cardinal, goldfinch, bluebird, blue jay and tufted titmouse. That morning my attention was caught by the early spring call of the male titmouse with its “peter peter” song increasing in frequency. Most days I would have whistled a response in hope of attracting him closer, but I had other activities on tap that day.
I was heading to my friend Steve Broderick’s house for the late winter tradition of tapping his sugar maple trees. Steve has a sugar house and typically makes 50 or more gallons of exceptional syrup. Along with Steve’s son Ben, son-in-law Brian, and friends Gordon and Frank, I have been helping Steve for several years get a start on the sugar season. It’s a tradition we look forward too, not to mention the great hot lunch prepared by his wife, Karen, and camaraderie of working in the winter woods.
Feb. 8 may have been the earliest we have ever tapped. Steve usually targets President’s Day weekend. But the conditions were right. The sugar bush was clear of snow and we made quick work of drilling and fitting the taps into the trees. By afternoon the temperature was above freezing, and the sap started seeping from the drill holes before we could insert the tap. As of this writing Steve has already processed more that 10 gallons of maple syrup.
As we slide into March, I’ll be on the lookout for other signs that winter is past, and spring has sprung. In the wetland area down the road from our house I’ll be looking (and listening) for the first male redwing blackbird returning from his southern winter vacation. I enjoy seeing them alight on the tall reeds, flash their bright red wing patch and make their distinctive gurgling “konk-la-reee” territorial call.
Soon the pussy willows in the wetlands will start to swell, and the forsythia bush beside our house will pop out bright yellow blossoms. I’ll be looking for the bluebirds and hope they’ll be examining our nest boxes. They’ll find them cleaned out and ready for occupation for spring and summer.
Before you know it, TLGV’s Spring Outdoors program will kick off. We’ll again be offering three months of hikes, walk, paddles and experiences here in the 35 towns comprising The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor. From Vernal Equinox to Summer Solstice we and our partners will provide you with many opportunities to get out and enjoy all we have come to appreciate about living in this region. In this column I’ll be sharing more about Spring Outdoors in the weeks ahead.
Spring is coming. I hope you’ll join me and so many others as we care for, enjoy and pass on this special place we call home – 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 email@example.com
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