Even if what my farmer friend down the road says is true: that this weather we’ve been having – freeze one day, thaw the next (this ominous deep swinging pendulum) – is bad news for the farmers…. Even if it means the garlic I planted with such anticipation last fall is a goner because of these crazy mixed messages—“Come on up, sun’s shining; start making glucose,” says the weather, “Feel that tug of green pushing toward the light.”
Then Zap! “Sorry,” says the weather to the emerging life, “Just kidding—temperature’s dropped 30 degrees, you’re rigor mortis, cold as stone; you’re not going anywhere….”
Even if it’s sleeting today – well, half sleeting, half raining, and there’s a slick of ice under the mushy snow so that you skid and lurch and wrench your back trying not to fall…. Even if everywhere you look there are dead spruce trees stretched across your path like pushy corpses…. Even if even my dog Sierra has the February blues…. Spring IS coming.
A friend I love but seldom see said to me once “a drive in the country is not a cure for all things.” The same could be said for a walk in the woods this time of year – just a thing you do. Often when I walk Sierra on these cold, pre-spring days, it’s a get ‘er done business. I ignore the trees and brilliant green ferns flattened by snow. They ignore me too: “No expression, nothing to express.”* Either I’m preoccupied by a conversation with another person, or dulled by absence of light, absence of enthusiasm, or I’m hunched against the cold, not listening, not looking around.
But the other day my friend Diana and I paid a visit to “The Grandfathers,” a grove of towering hemlocks flanking a small spring fed stream. We cupped the icy water and slurped. Then sat at the base of one of these giants sharing a thermos of hot apple cider. The tree’s roots grew on a hummock such that we could sit on either side of the trunk, high enough off the snow-crusted ground to be at ease. We gazed at the hemlocks in silence. When you start to pay attention to trees they pay attention back; or maybe they let themselves be seen, be felt. Their silence is full, not empty…And I know they’re alive and something is stirring within them….
I wrote the above reflection two months ago, longing for spring. Hard to believe it’s now April, and last night we got about 20 cm of snow. This morning the wind was as bitter as a cold day in February. Here I am still longing for spring two months later! But this is how it goes in the Maritimes.
Throughout February and March, the river in front of our house froze almost all the way across, then broke up into whimsical miniature icebergs. Slushy shelves of ice lay stacked on the shore. Then sparkling open water rushed out to the bay and made me think of summer, though I knew that water would freeze my blood in a nano second. Then the river froze over again.
Snow blew in, then melted away. In the melt times, there were massive amounts of gooky mud. With the almost warmth, almost spring, finches and chickadees ignored our feeders and went off on their own foraging expeditions. Cocky raccoons left the relative warmth of the old wood shed and sauntered into our yard like they owned the place. One fat acrobat swung himself up on to our porch roof one night and skillfully pulled the bird feeders down to the ground. On signal, skunks waddled out to partake of the scattered suet and seed, waving their tales above their heads like plumes.
One evening I pulled into the driveway at dusk only to hear a human-like shriek that seemed to be a cough or a gasp at the same time. Then there was another bone chilling husky shout. I heard, then saw, the panting rush of two bushy- tailed foxes tear-assing down the road, one after the other. Mating season.
More snow whirled in, then turned to rain. Sunny days turned to ice. Two steps forward one step back. It’s like this every year.
As I said it’s April now. But even if we woke this morning to find the ground once again blanketed in snow, the day before there was a definite taste of spring. At MacPhee’s apple orchard, Rick MacPhee and his neighbour make maple syrup each year. There’s just this brief window when the nights are the right amount of cold and the days are the right amount of warm. Barry, Sierra and I schlepped through the wet snow to the MacPhee’s little sugar house yesterday and watched the sap boil and leap in the evaporator. Rick’s neighbour stoked the boiler with logs and the foaming sap shot in the air with the sudden heat. At the far end of the evaporator he lifted and lifted the thickening sap until it sheeted like jelly, then he poured it off. New warm syrup. That was its own kind of thrill. But even more wonderful was the cup of sap he offered us from the bucket outside the sugar house.
How to describe the taste of maple sap? Yes, it is reputed to have medicinal properties, in addition to the presence of calcium, potassium and magnesium. But the real medicine is in the taste. A clear, cold, faintly sweet, tree taste. This sap is the tree’s blood pumping upward. In spite of the ash grey of the leafless trees all around us, and the apparent stillness of the woods, a cold fresh surge of life is in that sap. I can taste it! Life is coming back to the world. Halleluiah.
*from Robert Frost’s “Desert Places”