MARTHA SEZ: ‘So the frogs have started to sing’

Hurray, hurray, the first of May! The international emergency radio distress call “Mayday” was created in London, England, in 1923, to replace the emergency Morse code signal SOS. “M’aidez!” is French for “Help me!” and is pronounced the same way as Mayday, pretty much. In an emergency situation, it is always voiced three times — Mayday, Mayday, Mayday! — in order to make the point.

All this April our skies have mostly been overcast, and it has been either raining or snowing almost constantly — the soft, heavy kind of snow that coats the trees and drips from the eaves. Corn snow? Sugar snow? Mashed potato snow? Some call it poor man’s fertilizer.

Still, snow is endemic to spring in the Adirondacks, and, as my neighbors will be quick to point out, we need the water. People here are always quick to point out we need the water, except maybe right after Tropical Storm Irene.

Before I moved here I had never heard of mud season, although those who were born in the North Country and have spent their entire lives here may be surprised to learn that mud season is not a universal concept. Not everyplace has a mud season, just as not every locality has a bob run. Neither had I known that the word sugar could be used as a verb. Maple sugaring is an important part of the Adirorondack year.

When the maple trees bud out, sap collection stops. As Rivermede Farm owner Rob Hastings once told me, and as I repeat every spring, “It’s not over till the frogs start to sing.” As I stood on the porch in the rain last night belatedly bringing in the Adirondack chair cushions, I heard the distant silvery chorus of the spring peepers. So beautiful. So the frogs have started to sing, then, I thought.

Spring is definitely in the works. The two-week weather report forecasts lots of rain but no frost. (Yes, we know we can’t count on that, but still it’s reassuring for gardeners.) Once again, I am tending my seedlings, tender, perishable little sprouts, using a grow light. No, I am not raising cannabis in here, so don’t bother dispatching those Department of Environmental Conservation helicopters. Besides, growing cannabis at home (six plants) is slated to become legal soon in New York state, and the DEC gave up on the helicopters three years ago. They were expensive to operate anyway.

In the 33 years I have lived here, Keene has warmed from a zone 3 to a zone 4 climate designation. Yes, we are grateful for the brief interlude between frigid temperatures and the arrival of the blackflies and ticks (I have already heard reports of ticks).

During these early spring days and evenings when I can’t garden, I have been rereading two favorite books authored by Amy Stewart. “Wicked Plants” and “Wicked Bugs” are both highly entertaining. Stewart writes in a lighthearted way about the downside of the natural world we inhabit and gossips about the appalling habits and appetites of certain plants and creepy crawlies. At least through Stewart’s books I can vicariously experience the excitement of the out-of-doors even when spring is taking its own sweet time.

Most of the really scary and venomous plants, insects and arachnids Stewart writes about live in southern climes, but some, notably midges (no-see-ums), mosquitoes, blackflies, poison ivy and some popular garden plants, are plentiful here.

In “Wicked Bugs,” she quotes a scientist, D. S. Kettle, as follows: “one midge is an entomological curiosity, a thousand can be hell!”

“Earthworms are not always as beneficial as people believe them to be,” Stewart hints darkly.

“Nobody loves a maggot,” she confides, and cautions “Flea vomit is the true culprit in a plague epidemic.”

“Wicked plants” is likewise full of lore and pithy observations. About the beautiful but invasive purple loosestrife, Stewart writes, “A single specimen … can produce over 2.5 million seeds in a season. Those seeds can live for 20 years before they sprout.”

Beware of poison ivy. Although not everyone is allergic to it, roughly half of all people will break out in a rash when they brush against the plant.

“Those sensitive to poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac will break out into an oozing, unbearable rash. Since the oils can persist in sleeping bags, on clothing and in the fur of adorable little dogs, you may not realize that you’ve been exposed until it’s too late…”

Have a good week.

(Martha Allen, of Keene Valley, has been writing for the News for over 20 years.)

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