sprung

our early spring dragged on for months with brief intervals of winter. now it is mid-april and suddenly, real spring is upon us. the early robins, which were coming to the bird feeders and glumly eating seed from the ground (something i’ve never seen them do), have moved off to the meadows and forest to pick off some bugs and worms like robins are supposed to do. the migratory birds that came back far too soon have been joined in a glut by a rainbow of colleagues and the species that were here all winter have burgeoned in number. a handful of slate juncos has become a battalion. purple finches are trickling in and a male goldfinch stopped by today, a yellow jewel in a world that is still brown and grey. i counted seven male red-winged blackbirds and spotted my personal favorite sparrow: the white-throated, which is a grand little brown bird with tiny touches of bling around the eyes. no sign yet of my lovely rose-breasted grosbeak, but i know now that he’ll be back any minute now. i haven’t seen him, but i definitely heard the buzz of the male ruby-throated hummingbird. there is nectar cooling on the counter for him.

beyond the bird feeders are vast acres of grossness: dead grass, lumps of sod, dog bombs, rotting grey snow banks, mud, horse manure, and wind-downed branches. the crushed stone put down in the driveway last summer is splashed over lawns, stumps, and gardens, pushed inexorably by the voracious blade of the snow plow. there is so much to do and so little time to do it, things that must be tended to before the grass begins to green up and grow in earnest, burying the detritus from sight, but not from bare feet or a lawnmower blade.

the goats are shedding cashmere now. a quick snuggle leaves my pant legs with smears of gossamer goat-down. i let them out to have a good gallop while i forked and raked and shoveled their pen. they ran up the wood pile and over the picnic table, then bounced from one feed bin to the next in the shed.

there’s lots more to clean up, but some of it is still frozen down and my muscles are not used to this onslaught of work. i pick away a little at a time, knowing it will never all be done and taking no small satisfaction from that knowledge. we joke, in professional life, about tedious tasks being job security. in the garden, on the farm, there is hobby security. i’ve also learned, late in life, that i don’t have to spend a sunday cleaning the goat pen until i’m half dead, sunburned, and thoroughly tired of goats. i can clean the goats until i’m bored of it, then rake thatch until i get a blister, then spend some time washing windows, and so on. in between, i can stop for a glass of water in the shade and listen, blissfully, to the riotous quacking of wood frogs in the secret vernal pools and the sharp “check! check!” of a red-winged blackbird as he makes sure his mic is in working order.

the phoebes have been working to put last summer’s nest back in order over the light fixture in the shed. i meant to dismantle it some winter evening, but never got around to it. the phoebes are glad that there was a task that never quite got done and so am i.

freeze/thaw/freeze

it’s early march, so the cold, bony death’s-hand fingers of winter are rightly squeezed inexorably around us. this is usual stuff. but for two weeks, we had spring. i mean, 70ºF spring. snowdrops spring. mud season spring. that’s serious stuff. one day, the grackles were back. a couple of days later, a bemused red-winged blackbird was haunting the feeders. horses were un-blanketed, water tanks were unplugged, and the thermostat was adjusted and doors thrown open.

this is end of april weather, not end of february weather. february in vermont is full-on winter, the worst of it. the shortest month, but the one that feels the longest. day after grueling sub-zero day for what feels like years. this year, we had spring instead.

and we were all uneasy.

everyone i met looked a little bit hunted, unsure in their shirt sleeves, casting furtive glances around like they were waiting for the other shoe to drop. smiles were forced. this early spring weather brought out shiftiness. in true yankee fashion, we caught ourselves enjoying the sun and mild breeze and scolded ourselves back into dourness. because this windfall of weather is wholly undeserved. we know that we pay for our incomparable summers with brutal winters. having a mild, short, or easy winter is a cheat and probably consigns us all straight to hell.

as i write this, it is 1ºF. the wind is blowing, so there’s a significant windchill. the trees are cracking and popping, their frozen, brittle, sap-full branches threatening to snap in this sudden cold. the deck, the ground, the forest: everything is moaning its complaint. everything squeaks and creaks and makes a big fuss.

except the people. the people are kind of quiet because the forecast for next week is for more spring and it’s only march. do we embrace the spring? do we worry that we should’ve started our tomatoes indoors in mid-february instead of on town meeting day (the first tuesday in march), which is the traditional date for getting out the seed flats and filling them up with garden hopes? do we get out the rakes and wheelbarrows and start putting things back together after a foreshortened winter? will we get two feet of snow as soon as we do? and what about next year? and the year after? is this our new normal?

 

error: spring not found

this intrepid blogger, hereinafter dubbed mud maiden, has just returned from a two week family vacation to california. while i was gone, the three or four feet of snow melted, leaving behind the muddy brown landscape of early vermont spring, an endless carpet of matted soggy brown grass, earthy squishiness, and manure that takes a creative mind to bear. occasionally, the monochrome of mud and dog turds is broken by a daffodil or a faded wrapper or the sodden once-mighty limb of a pine tree that was dislodged by winter snow and is still stubbornly green, but mostly it’s brown, brown, brown. it’s incredible to me, every year, how many things were left out last fall, how many papery bits blew in on the cold winds, and how wind, air, and water can uproot fence posts, knock over plant pots in winter storage, and seep into every groove and crevice. it’s a bloody mess out there. it’s also chilly and damp with skies the color of wet wood ash that makes me think fondly and yearningly of the warm desert i just left.

the two ducks and half my flock of hens were rehomed a few weeks before i left. my newly-wee flock of chicken remainders, all old hens and young roosters, is free ranging again, raking through a winter’s worth of hulls under the bird feeders for whole seeds that the wild birds missed. they’re scraping around in the pastures for dropped oats and early bugs. they’re picking daintily around the edges of cold puddles for grass shoots and gulps of snowmelt. the roosters battle daily to see who can be the biggest jerk. too many roosters. i have had to go on a hunt of an evening to find old, blind bob, who flees the warlike overtures of the two young silkie cocks and is always under a different bush at dusk. previous attempts at separating him from the flock for his own good (even with a hen or two for company) have resulted in a sad and sullen bob, so i have been humoring him and letting him spend his days in hiding, knowing that some evening i wouldn’t be able to find the old guy and some oily predator would find him in the night instead. because my heart bleeds, after the third or fourth night of digging around in the dark looking for a lump of sleeping rooster under every bush and on every rock, i put up a new pen and bunged him and a big pathetic yellow hen in there. evening chicken chores are much easier now and bob and goldberry seem content for now.

the goats are shedding great sheets of precious cashmere that’s too dirty for me to bother harvesting this year. i was gone while it was still clean and close and now it’s just dirty, ragged yarns of fiber blowing in the wind. the birds in this neighborhood will have luxurious nest linings this year and, truth be told, i have been unable to find the motivation to clean and spin what i harvested last year and the year before that anyway. i tend to like the idea of spinning more than the actual spinning, especially with fiddly little fibers like cashmere. too much bother.

my ponies are rummaging like pigs through the soil for grass roots in the winter pasture, which is all eroded mud and fallen pine branches. there’s a summer full of brush burning waiting for me out there which will have to wait until there’s enough grass on the summer pastures to shuffle the horses. that is a month or more away, so they’ll be skipping and tripping on trees, boughs, and branches for a while yet. perhaps the worst of the blackfly season will be done by then and working outside will be more humane. and maybe the incessant winds will die back for the summer and make burning possible. it feels like the wind has been blowing sharp and cold for six months.

there’s raking to be done and general clean up, too, from a rough winter of “good enough”: the compost pile was completely snowed in, so there’s three or four coop cleanings piled as close to the composter as i could get it (not close enough). the failed garden from last year is deep in old weeds and tough sod and will need to be machine tilled this year instead of turned by hand. my horse shed is a disaster of empty grain bags. this is all very dispiriting.

normally, spring is the time when i turn optimistic and start planning for the mad scramble before fall. this year, the whole dance just depresses me. send some sunshine, mother. i won’t make it long without.