Monday, April 13, 2015

The Hounds of Spring are on Winter's Traces

Julia Spencer-Fleming: None of you who are regular - or even occasional - readers of this blog will have missed that this was been a winter of extraordinary severity here in the Northeast. While some of our esteemed members (*cough* Rhys and Debs *cough*) live in areas that have been plagued with higher-than-usual temperatures and drought, the rest of us live along a northeastern corridor that's been most frequently seen on The Weather Channel covered in a deep-blue blob indicating we're getting hit with 110.6 inches of snow. (Seriously, that was the Boston record as of March 29th. I think they've picked up another few inches since then.) Think about those inches, piled up. That's taller than me. It's taller than Jack Reacher. It's taller than Manute Bol, for heaven's sake. 

So why, oh, why do we stay in this benighted land? Many have moved on - it's no coincidence the Ohio Territory settlers, the '49ers of the California Gold Rush and the missionaries to the Hawaiian Islands were heavily stocked with New Englanders. 

I think we stay on for spring. Yes, yes, it's true that our driveways turn to mud and our lawns become marshlands. It's true the season lasts only four weeks and the color display is, shall we say, somewhat muted. (To someone south of the Mason-Dixon line, New England is spring looks like a vaguely cheerful post-apocalyptic landscape; The Walking Dead with a few daffodils.) 

But no one - no one - appreciates the season more than we do. Sunday was the first day in over five months that that temperature rose to 65 degrees, and Mainers reacted like it was V-E day. People were wearing sleeveless tops and t-shirts. Drivers in antique cars kept safely garaged all winter hit the road, their windows rolled down and arms hanging out. Motorcycles, unseen for the past five months, were revving up and down the county highway. And everywhere, everywhere, we all had the same dumb grins on our faces, ritualistically greeting one another with, "Isn't this amazing! Can you believe how warm it is? Cod-belly-white faces turned up to the sun in awful adoration. 

Here at my farmhouse, we spotted the first crocuses on Saturday, and nearly wept with joy. (Keep in mind, it had snowed three inches on Friday.) Everyone left the house to visit the miracle-shrine in person. The grass - what can be seen between slowly melting snowbanks - is still brown and withered, but I can promise you, when the first shoots arrive we will all look at it with the appreciation most folks give to the Da Vinci paintings in the Uffizi. "Look! The grass! It's green!"

Next will come the days of Forsythia and Narcissus. Only in our northern clime can their tepid yellow and wan white be so cherished. I suspect in most states forsythia is (rightly) viewed as a noxious weed, not a cherished landscaping plant. Then, finally, spring's crown, the lilac, that most New England of shrubs - gnarl-branched, woody, lives for centuries and blooms for a week. Roses have Robert Burns and daffodils have William Wordsworth, but New England's lilac has Walt Whitman in a different vein: 
When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d, 
And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,
I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.
   Lilacs, the dead president flower.

Chill and soggy and pale and unlikely, we still cherish our New England springs with a bliss unmatched by anything, except maybe the Sox going to the World Series. Spring has the benefit of at least coming reliably each year.

How about you, dear readers? Is spring the great joy in your neck of the woods? Or perhaps your clime has another date or event that dazzles the citizens?

23 comments:

Joan Emerson said...

Oh, the definitely-treasured joys of spring . . . warm days, flower beds in bloom, and no cold white stuff on the ground. And while we didn't quite match New England's snow total this year, there was so much of it that we were beginning to wonder if spring would ever arrive.
But today the daffodils are blooming in the flower bed and there are buds on the lilac bushes. What more could anyone wish for?

FChurch said...

Spring! YES!!!!!! Easter Sunday, churches around here were packed until walls bulged. And while I'm sure that was in part a response of the devout to the occasion, I also have a sneaking feeling that it was in part a response by the multitudes to give thanks for the warmth and sunshine we were blessed with that day!

Edith Maxwell said...

Oh, glory! I cut an armful of forsythia branches a couple of days before Easter, which was too late, but now their graceful branches are filling my kitchen with yellow joy. And yesterday we had a midday beer on the sunny deck, something that has not happened for many, many months.

Margaret Turkevich said...

Daffodils and forsythia dot the landscape, turning from brown mud to lush green grass. The flowering trees are starting to bloom, and the birds are trying to nest in the garage. One rouge tulip is in bloom in the middle of a cactus clump, planted by the previous owners to deter dogs from the corner garden. It's an omen, portending what?

Ellen K said...

I greeted the emergence of my flower beds with great joy-- and then I noticed that the [expletive deleted] grass was growing and would soon need to be mowed (I hate the lawn, but replacing it with village-acceptable ground cover would be costly of both time and money).

I would have headed south long ago, but I trust in our sub-zero winter temperatures and abundant snow cover to wipe out killer bees, fire ants, and mosquito-borne tropical illnesses.

And unless our [expletive deleted] current governor and his cronies manage to sell off pollution rights to the groundwater and the Great Lakes (and unless the Asian carp get through the Chicago canal into Lake Michigan and turn the Great Lakes to algae swamps), the one thing we've got here-- despite being in the snow belt, the rust belt, and on the edge of Tornado Alley-- is WATER. When all you guys in golden California and the sun belt have to switch to composting toilets and re-used drinking water, we should still have H20 in abundance.

Which is why I'm still here-- and emerging for the first time in months, blinking at the unaccustomed sunlight and re-learning to walk without the weight of heavy boots on my feet, bulky winter clothes on my body, and constant vigilance to avoid slipping on black ice.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Well, the DUCKS of course! Flo and Eddy are here..and we are so thrilled!

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

You Mainers have a lovely summer too, Julia, though short:). Spring in Key West is very very subtle--a few flowering trees we hadn't seen before and birds that sound like they're on their way to New England. We're going to follow them soon:)

Mary Sutton said...

While we're not in New England (just where is Pittsburgh located geographically - mid Atlantic?) we're grateful for spring. And I grew up in Buffalo. My mother had forsythia and we looked forward to those yellow blossoms ever year.

For me, the daffodils were up in the patch between my backyard and the neighbors and the {expletive} deer have--once again--mowed down my tulip shoots. I sat on the deck yesterday reading a book. First time in months.

Love spring. Some day, I might go south for the winter like Flo and Eddy, but I can't imagine spending spring, summer, and fall anywhere else.

Karen in Ohio said...

Au contraire, Julia; here in Southwest Ohio the forsythia is a welcome sight!

As are the redbuds just starting, and the six different kinds of daffodils blooming in my yard right now (the pink ones are my favorites), and the viburnum and bleeding heart getting ready, any day, to burst open. The deer eat the tulips, so I have no idea what color they were supposed to be, it's been so long since I've seen them do more than bud.

Susan said...

I'm in the Midwest, and while we did not have as horrendous a winter as New England, we did have our share of cold and snow. Now the grass is turning green, thanks to lots of recent rain, the birds are trying to carry off my grass seed, and the lilacs on the east side of the house are budding. The daffodils and tulips have been up since January because they are on the south side of the house, or perhaps because they are season-disabled. They get covered with snow several times every winter, their green spears frozen. But they still persevere and bloom. As my favorite New Englander, Henry David Thoreau wrote, "Nature is confident."

storytellermary said...

Ah yes, spring! The redbuds are blooming, and light green leaves are softening the stark bare branches. There's a softness to this season, perched between the harsh cold of winter and heat of summer. Grass is lush and green, and the frogs have awakened . . . I hear the frog chirrrrrp along with the birds' songs. Worth it!

Julia said...

Lucy; we stand ready to welcome the snowbirds back home!

I should have mentioned one more sign of early spring here: the neighbors' chickens are out and running around. Chickens are evermore not meant for snow, so we haven't seen them since the beginning of November. Now if I can just make sure the third sign of spring isn't my Shih Tzu bounding after them....

Carole said...

I am one of those pesky Californians (northern) and inadvertently caused sobs around the world when I post a facebook pic a month or so ago of my first coffee in the garden with geraniums and roses in full bloom .. But I am British so know all about the joys of daffodils, crocuses, forsythia (much revered) and lilac. Not to mention bluebells ... Enjoy!

Kathy Reel said...

Here in Kentucky, I've had my yard mowed twice already, and my beautiful, wonderful old tree out front is full of green leaves, although not nearly as full as it will get. Flowering trees are blooming and crocuses and daffodils are out in full force. We've had quite a bit of rain, but this last weekend was gorgeous, as is today. It's supposed to be another rainy week here, but with the result of all this delicious color, I can't complain too much. This past Saturday, we had a gathering of some family after my granddaughter's play in which she had the lead of Cinderella, and we actually sat out on the other grandmother's deck and ate and visited. Hurrah for Spring!

Deborah Crombie said...

For North Texas, we've had a very late spring. But it is indeed here--along with the rain.(A weather service flood alarm just went off after this morning's downpours.) But since we've been in drought conditions for the last couple of years, no one is complaining. Our reservoirs are now 80% full--in January they were below 40%. Everything is gorgeously green, and our hummingbirds are back! We wait for the hummers the way Hank waits for her ducks, although we can't call our little guys by name. Our hummingbird feeders went up yesterday, and I'll enjoy watching the hummers buzz and hover until they leave us again in October.

Karoline Barrett said...

I am in CT and so happy to see spring!!! I lived in Buffalo for a few years and never had as much snow there as in CT. Happy spring!!!

Sandra Hutchison said...

Everything you said is true of upstate New York as well, as I'm sure Clare and Russ have told you. I think spring often transitions to summer even faster here, too, which doesn't seem fair. Then again, we didn't have nearly the snow fall you folks near the Coast did. It missed the all-time record by at least an inch or two. :)

Julia said...

Just went out for the lunchtime walk with the dogs. It's over 70 degrees in Southern Maine and I would think myself in paradise except I still had to wade through areas of 4" compacted snow and pig-wallow-depth mud.

But 70 degrees! Woot!

Hallie Ephron said...

We dragged our outdoor furniture out of the garage today and just sat out in the garden and enjoyed the gentle breezes. Crocuses and scilla are up. Also witch hazel. Nothing else. Yet.

Karen in Ohio said...

Now I'm trying to figure out how deep "pig wallow-depth" is!

Six Decades said...

I live in North Georgia, but I grew up in Saratoga Springs and I remember winter well. I planted forsythia here to remind me of my roots. Yes, it is in full (fleeting) bloom in mid March and it is glorious. Peonies don't do much here, neither do lilacs, but those 3 forsythia make me grin like a fool. Oh - and we did have snow this winter, too. 6". Guess how many snow plows this county owns? Love your tribute to spring, and mud, and cod-white skin.

WENDY said...

In Southern California we've had spring intermixed with summer for several months now. (Oh, If we only had some water!) Two weeks after raking the last of the leaves my sycamore blossomed and had new leaves within a week.
Several times I sat out on my backyard swing reading you all discussing winter pweather...and I was jealous! I have boots and sweaters dying of loneliness in my closet. I bought a jacket in October and wore it once. I'm a fan of winter, but maybe not your kind. I love needing warm slippers, flannel PJs, rainy days and turning on the heater.
Everything in the Ojai Valley is green, with the exception of the oranges, purples, and golds of the wildflowers. Oh, and the white Iceberg Roses are in full bloom. For the past two weeks we've been reveling in the scent of orange blossoms and I find myself driving out to the East end of the valley just to enjoy the scent of the orchards.
"The Walking Dead with a few daffodils" ...love that! Now get back to work, please, because Clare and Russ aren't going to write themselves.

Joan said...

Living in the Allegheny Mountains of central Pennsylvania, we share Boston's pain. Oh the joy of spring, the dirty black snow is gone ,robins in the yard and buds on the lilac. We all sniffled our way to Easter Mass with our winter coats on but now we feel the sun.....