RFD Maine — The last three weeks are the toughest

By Tom Seymour | Feb 27, 2013

With the official arrival of spring only three weeks away, people in RFD Maine begin to get edgy, weary of the things of winter. Indeed, these last three weeks of winter are the toughest of all, with spring so near and yet so far.

The end of winter always finds me in a cranky mood. You wouldn’t know it by meeting me, since I’m aware of it and take steps to put on a happy face. But deep down, my spirit feels cooped up from too many days stuck inside, and it manifests its displeasure by slatting things around when at home by myself.

For example, I may happen to flip a bottle cap or some other small item in the wastebasket. Usually, the thing hits the wall like a basketball on a backboard. And then on the rebound, it plunks into the trash.

But what happens if it misses the wastebasket and bounces back at me? Ordinarily, I would simply pick it up, walk over to the container and drop it in. But not now, not during the last few weeks of winter. No, now, I’ll pick it up, go back to my chair and flip the cap back toward the wastebasket. If it misses again, I’ll repeat the process. “By gorry, you will go in,” I’ll tell it.

This sort of behavior makes no sense. But sense has little to do with the way many of us feel by winter’s end.

Hopeful signs

It doesn’t take much to lift winter-weary hearts. For me, all it takes are a few little signs, insignificant by themselves, but indicative of changes to come. St. Patrick’s Day comes at the very end of winter, so close that it may as well fall in early spring. In fact, for many, St. Pat’s Day marks the unofficial beginning of spring. I’m Scottish by heritage, but I love St. Paddy’s Day, mostly because it serves as a bellwether of spring. Also, I love Irish music and of course, the Guinness stout that goes hand-in-hand with the day.

Retailers love St. Patrick’s Day, because it serves as a reason to put on sales. And sales draw customers and customers spend money. So, anxious to get the jump on the season, stores tape cardboard cutouts of four-leaf-clovers and leaping leprechauns on their windows, beginning now. And for me, seeing one of these rather cheesy advertising devices equals seeing the first flock of robins or blackbirds, newly arrived from warmer climes. And today, while driving through Belfast, I saw the first trappings of St. Patrick’s Day in a store window. Ahhhh!

Another sign that lets us know spring is nigh, comes in the form of plastic tubing strung from tree to tree, with separate tubes diverted down into white, 5-gallon plastic pails. By late February, maple syruping season has arrived and eager sap gatherers get out, even if it requires strapping on snowshoes, to take advantage of the first tentative run of maple sap.

Town meeting

For many, the annual town meeting marks the unofficial beginning of spring. These residual vestiges of pure democracy occur in March for many Maine towns. And so it does in Waldo, where I live.

Without fail, the trip to town meeting means driving on muddy, deeply-rutted roads. Back when winters were winters and Mainers were proud of it, mud season was mostly a one-time event, a difficult time that was short-lived and, while not much liked, not especially hated, either.

But that has changed. I’ve counted four different mud seasons on the gravel road in front of my place so far this season. Our recent winter pattern of first cold, then warm, then cold, have created a situation where mud season comes about once a month, beginning sometime in December and lasting through April. As such, it gets old, it does, wicked old.

Nature stirs

Springtails, wee little insects commonly known as “snow fleas,” are out in force now. These look for all the world like little specks of dirt or ash on the clean, white snow. But look closely and you’ll see that each little speck jumps and hops about, clearly alive and full of vigor. Find snow fleas around the base of trees.

And on warm days when snow melts and water runs in rivulets down steep banks and across driveways, snow fleas by the hundreds of thousands get caught up in the flow. Look where the water pools and you’ll find a black coating of snow fleas floating on the surface.

Sometime soon, probably at night, the strong scent of skunk will waft across the rural landscape. Skunks stir in early March and of course, they always seem to find sufficient reason to let loose with their caustic spray. This aggravates many folks, and for sure that’s understandable. It doesn’t bother me a mite. In fact, as long as the skunk isn’t beneath my house when it sprays, the slight scent of skunk on a warm, late winter evening does much to cheer me.

While we’ll need to wait another several weeks to pick our annual bouquet of pussywillows, there are ways to hasten the first green things of spring. I like to go out in late February and cut a bunch of white birch branchlets. These go into a water-filled vase and in a little more than one week, the buds swell and show signs of green. Soon, I have a cheery, springtime arrangement of white-and-green birch gracing my kitchen table.

It’s little things such as these that make the last several weeks of winter bearable. So persevere. Have a green milkshake at McDonald’s. Go and hear some Irish jigs. Watch for arriving songbirds. And know that spring is just around the corner.

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