RFD Maine — A circle of seasons
For me living in RFD Maine, signs of a past or soon-to-arrive season are always close at hand. This topic came to my attention when I noticed a vase of pussy willows atop my refrigerator.
In perhaps one more month, the silky-gray catkins of pussy willows will appear. Pussy willows fall into that fuzzy category of plants sandwiched somewhere between large shrubs and small trees. The still-naked twigs and branches, with their crop of furry catkins, are a time-honored symbol of spring. And as such, we revere them. If pussy willow catkins came on in summer, we would pay them no homage. But in late March and early April, we cherish our pussy willows.
Winter-weary souls go out in early spring in search of the first catkin-bearing pussy willows. Successful pussy-willow hunters usually cut a handful or two to take home and put in a vase. First-timers often make the mistake of placing their fresh-cut pussy willow sticks in a water-filled vase. That’s a mistake, because the branches continue to grow and become covered with pollen. Leave them in water long enough and they’ll set roots. Seasoned pussy willow fans know to put their prize in a dry vase. That way the display will remain intact until the following spring, when it’s time to go on another pussy willow foray.
After considering pussy willows, I turned around and observed the old-time Mason jar with it’s bouquet of tansy sitting on a shelf above my television. The golden-yellow buttons (flower discs) have faded a bit, but there’s no help for it, because they are destined to remain there until late next summer, when they’ll be replenished with a new batch of cuttings.
Besides the tansy, little wisps of the summer season remain in plain view on my back deck in the form of a folding lawn chair leaning against the house and of course, my barbecue grill.
In my house, autumn, the fall of the year, is represented by several deer antlers adorning a wall, plus the “fan,” or tail feathers of a particularly handsome partridge, or ruffed grouse, that I shot last year.
Winter, my least favorite season, has no reigning ambassador at my place, at least not one I have expressly invited. But even the cold season gets passing notice at different times of year, because of my fondness for Baroque composer Antonio Vivaldi. His trademark work, "The Four Seasons," is something I play frequently. This four-part concerto is appropriately enough broken down into sections titled Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter. So even when listening to this timeless work in spring and summer, I’m reminded of winter.
Reminders of the different seasons are visible in other places, too. These “lesser lights” are often in my way, only to get moved from where they are stored when their own season arrives and I dust them off and use them for their intended purpose.
For instance, I keep my air conditioner in the greenhouse over the winter. The AC is heavy and the greenhouse is the closest outbuilding to the house. Besides that, my barn is very small and fully populated with outdoor equipment. So the greenhouse wins, or loses, by default.
Even the woodshed shows signs of different times of year. Just the other day, I nearly tripped on one of the boards that I use at the bottom of each row of firewood. These serve the purpose of keeping my firewood from freezing to the ground. And by the time spring, or something like it arrives, the boards are free of piled wood and ready to serve yet another purpose. Now, they become walking boards.
Mud season creates the need for long boards across low areas along the path between my house and car and house and barn. When genuine spring finally arrives and these vernal pools dry up, the boards go into storage back in the woodshed.
Right now, inside the house, my humidifier works hard to keep indoor humidity levels at somewhere near the 50 mark. But when spring arrives and outdoor relative humidity rises far above winter’s desert-like state, and the woodstove goes to sleep for another season, the humidifier gets sent to the woodshed — literally.
Even the food I eat is representative of the different seasons. For example, I’ve had a hankering for dandelions as of late, so to satiate my desire, I’ve been digging into my lode of home-canned dandelions. It’s impossible for me to feast on a meal of dandelions, even canned ones, and not think back upon the season and the circumstances from which they came.
I just ate the last of the trout that I vacuum-packed and froze last summer. This not only brought to mind the joys of open-water fishing, it made me yearn for the upcoming spring, when open-water fishing on brooks and streams resumes. Eating that trout fillet also reminded me of the trout I raise in my farm pond, and the fun I have sitting by the pond in evening twilight, sipping ale and watching my fish rise to the floating trout pellets I throw out to them each evening.
Well, it’s not really a “Kodak moment,” but all the same the background on my desktop computer screen is always pleasing to me. I constantly change the background photo, choosing from the large crop of digital images stored on my computer. Currently, in view of and as a respite from cold, snow, more cold and more snow, I have a summertime photo for my desktop background.
This photo shows a pastoral scene, a gentle hill, covered with hay-scented ferns in the foreground and mature maple and white ash trees in the background. In this photo, everything is green. Gazing at it, I can almost smell the sweet fragrance of the ferns, coupled with just a hint of spruce gum. The photo was taken in an inland section of Sears Island, one of my favorite summertime haunts. And yes, the island abounds in spruce trees and the spicy aroma of spruce sap wafts about inland areas, toying with the senses and making each visit that much more enjoyable.
I visit Sears Island regularly, from spring through fall, and am familiar with most of the plant life there. But now, in winter, I’d just as soon sit in my office by the woodstove and stare at the delightful summertime photo on my computer screen.
Soon, it’ll come time to change my desktop background. I’m thinking of putting up a picture of springtime flowers, perhaps crocus or hyacinth. By the time the real crocus comes into bloom, I’ll switch photos and post one of me holding up a fresh-caught trout, taken along one of my favorite trout brooks.
I suppose this circle of seasons awareness is an inherited trait, something from deep inside, reaching out over the millennia. And, thinking along those lines, I kind of pity people who live where there is no change of seasons. To someone from RFD Maine, even the most congenial climate would become old if taken in too-large doses.