“Did you look at the forecast?” “Is this it?” “Should we get them out?”
My children keep asking, and I keep telling them that I think so, but that no one can know for sure. We are talking of the change in the weather, slated to begin today, warming us up from the last wave of bitter cold with night temperatures last night around -12 (we hit -29 earlier this winter, so that’s pretty balmy), to days in the 40s (gasp, and maybe even near 50) next week, while nights are just below freezing.
It is possible, of course, that the warm spell will turn and go south, although the predictions are optimistic. It is possible that after the melt-off next week we’ll go back to the deep freeze, but an extended warm period like this usually means the beginning of the end for winter. This might just be the beginning of spring. After a long and bitterly cold winter, we’re all excited. (And probably a little optimistic, given that it is -5 right now and we’re expecting snow within the next 24 hours…but it is supposed to be 35 tomorrow, so that’s enough to encourage optimism!)
“Them” are the maple taps. It isn’t for nothing that the Northeast is said to have five seasons – spring, summer, fall, winter and mud. We really do have a transitional season during the annual melt-off when everything is running – the creek, the melting snow over the driveway, the streams of mud down my children, and the sap of our tiny sugarbush.
My woods are fairly new, and the hardwoods are just beginning to take significant place in them – 50 years ago, my 18 acres of forest was pasture. You can find the old standard apple trees and the stone fences that kept in the cows easily enough as you walk through the brush and woods. There are only a few maple trees big enough to tap, mostly in the old hedgerows – but that’s ok. We have dozens of neighbors with larger projects going, and are happy to purchase some syrup from them. For us, this is a pleasure, a few quarts of syrup for pancakes, and the knowing that spring will come.
Sap runs when days are warming and nights are cold, when the ground defrosts and the puddles pool, and as the snow melts. For many of my neighbors, maple syruping is part of a living, but for almost everyone who does it, it is a way to move into spring, awaiting the red-winged blackbird and the peepers, out in the woods, outside, luxuriating in the warmth of a 40 degree day and the smell of reducing syrup.
On March 1, The Carrot Barn, the large farm in the Schoharie Valley we visit regularly will reopen from its winter rest. Within a few weeks, their greenhouses will be full of spring flowers and fragrant with the smell of earth and hyacinths, and we will go there to take deep gulps of springtime air through the cold days. The house will gradually fill with seedlings as well, the smell of wet earth and the hope of spring. Perhaps next week, if a day reaches a bright and non-windy 50, I’ll carry them outside to sit on the porch, protected from bright sun and cold wind at first, bringing babies out to meet the world.
The Robins came back at the end of January, the junior does started breeding last night for summer babies (actually they started a couple of weeks ago by accident, but I’m trying to pretend I’m in control here – the animals, however, are also feeling spring in their blood!), and the seniors will start to kid in early April. My tub will be filled with baby chicks in a few days, peeping and awaiting weather warm enough to move into the barn. All in all, the turn of the year is coming whether old man winter likes it or not.
For now we hang, quietly, or not so quietly, impatient, waiting for spring. It is coming, It is almost here. Every sign debated, every change tasted – there is no moment in time when we are more in tune with our place and world than in the pause between winter and spring, when we stand, waiting for the moment when all this pent up energy is finally released!