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MARTHA SEZ: Winter? Or is it spring?

March 18, 2011
The red-winged blackbirds are back! It’s the earliest, most reliable sign of spring. Despite considerable evidence to the contrary, winter is losing its grip. It cannot last forever.

Last week, when I wrote about the Keene Valley Fire Department  fundraiser at the Keene Community Center, I left out a small but important detail.

Yes, I reported that the event was a success, benefiting a 13-year-old girl in need of an organ transplant. But when I wrote that firefighters in full emergency gear played four innings of “baseball,” batting a kickball and running the bases through deep snow I failed to mention that they were also wearing snowshoes. That’s so Keene. I love this town.

Many of you are aware that last Sunday and Monday we were inundated by a winter or early spring snow storm, complete with leonine March winds and precipitation ranging from rain to sleet to freezing rain to snow. Nicky Frechette of Rookery Ranch, which is at a high elevation, excitedly reported big perfect six-sided snowflakes. By the time it was over most of us had several feet of snow, beautiful but hard to excavate.

Spring is variously defined as the months of March, April and May or else from March 21 to July 20.  We are digging out from this major blizzard under a blissfully blue sky. Along the eaves giant icicles drip in the sunshine, but they’ll freeze back up come evening.

Sunday, March 13, we begin daylight saving time again. It will end  Nov. 6. Early risers have noticed how bright the mornings are now, and will also notice the setback when we go to the new time; but of course it will be light longer in the evenings, and soon enough it will be light at 6 a.m. again.

Every year Adirondack springtime takes me by surprise. Yes, North Country spring is pretty subtle by southern standards, but it has its own personality, and it’s always welcome.

Each year is a little different, but over time there is definitely a pattern. I was looking back over my records from the last 17 years or so, and excerpted the following seasonal observations.

“Outside the window, spring was happening! The snow in my back yard was receding in the bright sun, and flocks of red-winged blackbirds were rising and falling over the apple tree, making all kinds of noise. “Signs of spring: I am looking at a crocus and a robin in my back yard. Some kind of  semi-congealed precipitation, about the consistency of a Slurpee, is falling on them both.”

“Warm days, cold nights! That means it’s sugaring time! Yes, it’s officially spring. Mud season.”

OK, here’s one of my earliest accounts of the season, written when I was new in town. I’d just learned that I was a “blow-in,” a rather poetic term — don’t you think? — for a new-comer. Now there are so many blow-ins that the term has lost some of its punch.

“I was speaking to an old mountain man recently.

“‘How do you figure ice-out will go this year?” I asked.

“‘That depends,’” he said after a while. ‘It’ll go either one way or the other.’

“‘How do you mean?’”

“‘Either it’ll go out slow or it won’t. If it goes out fast, we’ll get some flooding.’” He fell silent as if done with the conversation, apparently absorbed in his handiwork (he was mending a winch). Taking this as my cue, I picked up my notebook and headed for the workshop door.

“‘Either way,’” he continued, suddenly warming to his subject, “‘We’ll have to deal with it. Whatever Mother Nature serves up, we’ve got to deal with it.’”

He looked me square in the eye.

“‘And if you don’t like the weather today —’” he was saying when we were interrupted by the bang of the woodshop door against the wall.  

“The old mountain man might have finished his sentence, giving me further old-time insights into the intricacies of ice-out management, which I could have shared with you,  were it not for another mountain man who barged into the workshop and blew my cover.

“‘Don’t talk to her, Jem, she writes for the paper!’ he yelled. I pushed past the second mountain man and took off fast down a well-shoveled path walled on both sides with seven-foot snow banks, kind of like a bob run, jumped into my car, and made my getaway. That was a close call! Have a good week.”


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