Sunday, May 1, 2016

This Book of Spring

Line-dried sheets make for sweet sleep

There is a list of more than thirty spring chores on the refrigerator.  Things we must get done before spring changes to summer and the full press of heat and days full of weeding and mowing is upon us. And those, seemingly in a blink, move to fall and the harvest and hours over the canning kettle and processing veggies for the winter’s eating.  But, I am getting ahead of myself, and with the sun shining brightly, pussy willows plump along the roadside as we walk the dogs, and the trill of the first bobolink of the season filling the warming air, there should be some enjoyment, and there is.  
Summer seating  
Yesterday, we took the Adirondack chairs out of the shed, dusted them off and lined them up on the patio that we spent last fall building.  We had our coffee there.  Yesterday in jackets because there was a stiff breeze out of the north and west, sweeping in the cold of snow still lying deep in the shaded woods.  But the sun was warm, and swallows swooped and dove against the sky catching the flying insects that are beginning to come out of hibernation.  We sipped and talked and planned the day while the dogs ran and leaped around the yard.  Monty is happy with just the joy of running free of deep snow that challenges his short legs, but Kris.  Kris has decided he is a bird dog and he is taking it very seriously, speeding around and leaping high to follow the swallows that soar up into the blueness, almost out of sight, then swoop back down over the yard, a mere four feet above his head.  He leaps and pirouette and runs both stretched out and with tail and hips tucked beneath – only when cornering – to try to catch them. 
The joy of warmth  
We also brought out the grill. Although we both love the winter soups and stews and the hearty roasts and casseroles that shape our winter diet, we are weary of the heaviness, longing for something from off the grill.  I boiled potatoes and eggs for a salad that we will have today along with chicken marinated in honey Dijon mustard and then slow cooked over the fire.  A culinary pick-me-up when we most need it, and easier to prepare, especially with muscles sore from raking and digging and planting and long rambles across the now bare field with the dogs.  But back to the list of chores. 
They range from simply planting the garden, once a gargantuan task but easier now that we have cut back on the size, to finishing the herb garden we began last year.  There is the pruning of the fruit trees to be done and spraying with dormant oil, and then the on-your-knees shearing dead tips from the blueberries and raspberries that give us everything from fresh handfuls to eat to bottles of “Madness”  we share with friends and that is good sipping before the fire on a February night.  The list is heavily weighted with those things that must be done.  The scrubbing of lichen off the siding of the houses, painting the foundation, reseeding winter killed lawn or bare spots where last fall’s seeding did not take.  And, there are new things too.
Pussy willows on the mantle  
We are building an enclosed front porch this year.  Nothing grandiose, just a simple three- season porch with windows and screens to keep out the bugs and rain and the northwest winds that hit that side of the house in winter.  There are winter clothes to pack up with lavender and cedar and put away until next fall, and blankets and quilts to be laundered, too, and hung out on the line to dry. We hung the first sheets on the line yesterday and they came in stiffly crisp and smelling of sunshine and fresh air.  But I diverge. The biggest projects this year include things such as rebuilding the woodshed, and clearing out and chipping the small trees, brush and red stick growing in along the northern tree line.  That means the chipper has to go out to be tuned up, and while we are at it, we will also send out the riding mower, that helps me keep our nearly three acres of lawn in good trim.
We picked a few pussy willows today on our mile walk with the dogs to our neighbor’s.  It is the first visit for our boys and the first long walk up the road with all the snow gone.  A million delicious scents and smells kept their noses quivering, and the plunged into the roadside brush, searching out new adventures, constrained only by their leashes.  Monty, our puddle jumper, of course had to plunge into bog water in a ditch, galloping along and sending muddy plumes of water up around him.  When at last he was over his romp, he looked as if he had pulled on dark stockings.  A few of the popples have begun to fuzz out in the soft blur of catkins, and those, along with the pussy willows, mean food for the handful of bees that have begun buzzing about, and tender spring feed for the deer and moose. 
Gotta get those birds  
We went to visit because the neighbors have an eight-month-old Labrador and we are all sure that the three of them could have a jolly old time.  But she is recuperating from spaying, and on confined activity – a near impossible task for a young Lab – and so, they did not meet, but rather eyed each other through a window.  They’ll meet and play another day. The roadsides were nearly pocked with moose prints and deer prints of all sizes, and the dogs found them fascinating.  It was a nice visit, sitting out in the sun on the neighbors’ deck, looking down over Salmon Lake where all but an almost opaque layer of ice, right in the center, has melted away and the open water glittered and winked in the sun.  And then the long ramble back home, at a slower pace, to notice the barely budding bushes and the clean wet scent, and off to the southwest, the building of clouds that bode tomorrow’s rain, which we need badly as we have been under a fire watch for the past two weeks
May Day snow  
I have just a little over a week of classes left before the end of this semester, and then the days will be mine.  I’ll leave behind the grading of papers and planning of assignments for what one might assume are days of fun, but are simply labors of another sort.  In this fleeting spring, each day is a chapter in itself, filled with writing I have promised myself, flowers and shrubs to replant, mulching to do, the weekly mowing of the lawn, a handful of baby quilts to make, and a new wood stove to install for the winter that is ever present in our thoughts.  There will be vegetables to can and freeze, and pickles and jams to make. To add to it, this year I have decided to make full thermal quilts for all the windows, especially those on the north and west sides of the house from whence the bitterest winds come.  Although the house is relatively warm, there are those mornings, even those days when the temperatures dip to double-digit lows, and the cold frosts the outside panes. It’s a big project, but one that will be well worth it in warmth and heating costs. 
And so on this first of May, we are planning and easing our winter-soft bodies into the labors ahead, knowing that there are sore muscles in our future, and yet glad to be alive on this most glorious first day of real spring.  Yet there is the reminder of what will come, for along the southernmost side of the field, in the verges and depths of the forest of firs, snow still lingers, six inches deep, where the sun does not reach, and we push ahead to prepare for two seasons from now.  There is pleasure in the labor, and it keeps us healthy in body and soul.
Happy May Day one and all!