Sunday, April 3, 2016

This Capricious Spring

This capricious spring, shadow and light, the tug of spring and the pull of winter has us anxious and longing for warmer days.  One day the blue bowl of sky is so bright and clear it hurts the eye, and the next there is the thin opaque gray dome that bodes of snow.  It has been a long winter, filled with sleet and frozen rain and heavy wet snow.  The remains of snowbanks along the roadsides smudged and dirty with the sand and gravel flung airborne by the plow trucks, scarred and sooty, and beyond, the fields are sheened with ice from the last mixed storm.  It reminds me of childhood when some winters we could strap on ice skates and glide across the frozen fields, our shadows snaking along behind us or dancing ahead in daring. 
I change my coat daily;
on one, the red wool coat, and another the down parka.  Mittens and gloves are interchangeable too, and the heavy snow boots give way to flats, and then back to the boots.  It is tiring to keep up, especially when we long to be outdoors, something that has not been possible this year.  There was no snowshoeing, because snowshoes slid on icy snow and trails, and little cross-country skiing either.  We’ve even held off from walking the dogs too often because the frozen ice on the road cuts the pads of their feet and leaves them limping home to the warmth of the house where they curl in their chairs and dream doggy dreams, noses and paws both twitching in the chase of rabbits and squirrels and birds.  We all have cabin fever.
But spring is coming.  The rivers and streams are bank swollen, cold water running in a swift liquid ribbon, overflowing, soaking the ankles of alders and service berry, wild cranberry and cattails.  The moose have been on the move, perhaps because our neighbor had his woodlands thinned and for nearly a month, behemoth timber trucks hauled load after load of long straight logs out of the woods down near where Salmon Lake Brook leaves what passes for Salmon Brook Lake, but only if one doesn’t look too close.  It is really a bog, preserved by the state because of the 1,800 acres of wetlands and six rare plants that call it home.  The local critters call it home, too.  Bear den up deep in the woods, and moose gather along the edge of the bog where young trees and bushes provide good winter feed while the taller evergreens offer protection from deep snow.

Salmon Brook Lake in winter

We often see their tracks, cutting across our field, zig-zagging the overgrown field on the far side of the road where the wild apple trees grow.  This year there were three: White Stockings, a mature cow who has been roaming these fields and woods since we moved here and likely far longer, and then two younger cows, who we suspect are her offspring because both have some variation of the white socks that earned White Stockings her name.  At some time, there had been a bull around too, because he knocked over part of our rail fence rubbing against it and broke the young birch tree we planted last fall.  The fence was easily fixed, and with a bit of pruning, the birch will likely survive too.  That is if the moose leave it alone and don’t treat it as dinner. 
All three cows were noticeably pregnant, rotund bellies swinging from side to side as they waded through the deep snow, eating everything that they could find – red stick, choke cherries, the old apple tree in the north windbreak of our property.  But they left our fledgling orchard of apples and cherries, and plums and hazelnuts alone, until a few weeks ago.

Fifty feet from the house

It was my husband’s fault. 
I had been watching the moose adventure for several weeks, and checking each morning to see if there were footprints in the snow around the fruit trees.  There had not been and I had kept my vigil silent.  Bruce, however, had fretted and worried all winterover the young trees, which had borne the first fruit last fall.  I suppose the imminent threat of moose drove him to breaking the silence.
“The moose haven’t gone after the trees,” he burst out one evening as I arrived home.  He just couldn’t contain himself.   I shook my head and hung up my coat.
The next morning, the damage was done.  The small orchard was laced with moose prints and not a tree was spared from their munching.
“They got all the new growth,” he said mournfully.
“Uh huh,” I replied. 
“Damn moose!” he proclaimed of the critters that the day before he had delighted in.
Sometimes, I do know when to be quiet, and so I was. 
The trees will recover, and with a bit of pruning, likely bear again this year because the fruit grows on older wood.  Next year, he says, he is putting up a fence.  Given the fate of the earlier mentioned rail fence, it seems like a lost cause.
And so we inch toward spring, our patience with snow and each other fraying.
The crows returned about the same time as the moose buffet, and that elevated Bruce's fury.  For the past three years he has waged a battle with a handful of crows that seem determined to set up housekeeping and raise a family in our neighborhood.  Bruce has shot one that ventured too close to the house, and fired into the air to scare off others too many times to count.  Now when he ventures outdoors and there are crows hanging out in the poplars, they raise a raucous alarm and flee. 

Bird Dog

Last week the robins returned too, just before the eight inches of heavy wet snow that nearly shut down the northern part of the county.  And the snow buntings packed up, all but a persistent pair, and headed north to their summer home.  There are chipping sparrows now cleaning up the seed leftover from feeding the buntings, and they offer all sorts of entertainment for the dogs, especially Kris, who woke up two weeks ago and realized he is a bird dog.  He is fascinated to watch them hip and hop and bob across the yard.I only hope the windows hold.
The coming of the birds means the planting of this year’s seedlings and so the tables have been taken down from the rafters of the garage and lined in front of the windows in the house.  Onions and other early seeds are tucked in to them, and the house smells of the warm dampness of starter soil.  We also bought a mini hydroponic set up, Aerogarden, at the urging of my friend Laura, and it is here that I am now starting herbs, and soon tomatoes and other seedlings for the summer garden.  The list of things to do grows longer every day, and we are anxious for the snow to melt away, the wind to come out of the south and not the cold northwest.
We are ready for spring to sweep across the land and turn the distant hills into delicate Monet vistas.  However, the temperature keeps dropping, down to eight above tonight, and so we will keep busy with planning and ordering seeds, and making lists of things to do, and dreaming of when the days of summer paradise finally arrive.  And this year, I won’t be writing a dissertation so I might get to enjoy it!

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