I heard a robin the other day. He was certainly one of the forerunners for the big flocks that will be appearing any day now. Surely spring is at hand.
Actually, the signs have been there for awhile for one who would take the time to look. The Red maples have been blushing more and more intensely, the buds of the Balsam poplar have been swelling almost to bursting, and the first of the Pussy willow catkins have appeared. Chickadees are singing their sweet little love songs, ravens are doing their courtship dances high overhead - indeed, they are already into making their nests and laying their eggs, as are our local owls. Crows and Bluejays protest each others' presence as they too begin to court and search for suitable home-making sites; both of these rascals knows the other for the egg-stealing thief that it is and so they engage in long running games of the pot calling the kettle black.
I look out my garret window in moments of contemplation and I notice that the ice covering the main channel of the river is beginning to look suspect. It turns a darker shade as it begins to weaken; at first I am almost fooled into thinking that it is merely a shadow and then I realize that the shadow is running from east to west and that it is following the course of the channel. It will be some weeks yet before it clears and the scoters flood back in for their annual staging on the estuary, but suddenly, my thoughts turn to them and I wonder where they are as I write.
Early in the morning, the snow crusts over, allowing for several hours of great spring skiing, but by noontime, it turns soft and treacherous for one who ventures to walk the snowshoe trails of the winter; even with snowshoes, whole sections will collapse, especially where the snow has been undermined by brush or perhaps by the water of an underground spring.
Did I mention that it is also the time to tap the maples? For several days now, I have been getting ready, training Sasha to pull a sled, and hauling supplies back to the Sugar Bush. By the time you read this, I will have my trees tapped. Sugar making is a rite of spring for me.I don't do it for the economy of it; it is hard work, with long hours, but it is also the first harvest of the year and the first tangible evidence of the renewal of the annual natural cycle. It is an act of faith and of confirmation - another year has begun - another year of hoping and planning, of planting and weeding and harvesting. Sugaring will be followed by looking for fiddleheads and then wild strawberries. It will also lead to walks in the woods and trips out on the river in my kayak.
As a teacher I always felt that the year really began in September, but as one who had always tried to live closely to the natural rhythms of the year, I knew - and still know - that it really begins with the first of those rites, those tasks that take me from a sense of passivity, of hibernation, to one where I begin, once again, to interact with the sun and the rain, with the soil, and the wind and all those other things that influence the world of growth and renewal. I enjoy the simple beauty of winter here in Winter Country, but my soul responds in an elemental fashion to the pull of spring - and I will feel that for the first time tomorrow, some day next week - on a day of brilliant sunshine when I am in my sugar bush, busily and happily running sap, listening to it drip into the buckets, completely caught up in the moment and wishing for nothing else on earth.