Tag Archive 'signs of spring'

Mar 02 2015

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Approaching Spring

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Snowmelt puddleAs I sit on the side porch, warmed by sunlight beaming though closed windows, it doesn’t seem to me like spring is far away at all. Snow is piled several feet deep in my front yard and around the driveway, but I can see pavement and the icicles hanging down from the roof are dripping constantly. With the thermometer reaching into the 20s, we’re experiencing a heat wave compared to the steady parade of subzero temps last month. That’s encouraging.

It’s March now. The Vernal Equinox is only a few weeks away. And while those of us who have lived here in the North Country a decade or more know better than to start looking for robins, the maple sap should start running soon. Surely that counts for something.

In my driveway there’s a puddle of snowmelt, and in that puddle I see the reflection of a relentless sun. I find stark beauty in that reflection as well as in the craggy, half-melted edges of ice nearby. For those paying attention, and I’m sure the birds at my feeder are doing just that, the early signs of seasonal change are clear. Yes, some nasty winter storms come our way in March, but a big thaw will soon take place regardless.

That’s what is nice about the seasons here in northern New England. Just when you think the heat/cold/rain is never-ending, things change. Nothing lasts so long that it devastates us – not if we pay careful attention. Things change. It’s only a matter of time.


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Apr 15 2014

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hepatica 2014With temps shooting into the 70s, I dropped everything yesterday morning and went for a hike. Niquette Bay seemed the place to go: low elevation and close to home. Still too much snow in the mountains.

The first thing that struck me when I stepped out of the car was the smell of trees, forest duff and raw earth. That’s something I’ve missed terribly.

Ah, to have a soft muddy trail underfoot again! Remnant patches of snow lay hidden in shadowy places. A blazing sun illuminated the forest. And the air was full of birdsongs – robins, chickadees, and some other bird whose name I’ve forgotten over the long, hard winter.

Not far into my hike, I heard peepers in the distance. I left the trail in search of them – woods wandering once again. I stumbled into a vernal pool where a solitary wood frog floated. He clucked away incessantly as I kept a respectful distance. Then returning to the trail, I spotted something that took my breath away: round-lobed hepatica in full bloom. Considering how the snow and ice have lingered well past the Vernal Equinox, how is that possible?

A fierce wind blew cold across Lake Champlain. Down by water’s edge, I listened to fragmented ice tinkle as it jammed against the shoreline. Back on the trail, I crossed burbling rivulets of spring run-off making their way towards the lake. The elements on the move again.

Near the crest of a hill, while tramping dreamily along the trail with my dog Matika, a mourning cloak butterfly fluttered past. From a ledge I saw snow still clinging to cold, blue mountains in the distance, making me wonder.  Then a woodpecker telegraphed a message across the forest, removing all doubt as to what time of year it is.

In shirtsleeves yet sweating, I burned off the last of an indoor funk. Hope springs eternal in wild nature, when the world suddenly awakens.


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Apr 18 2013

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Vernal Pools

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frogsYesterday I went into the woods searching for the sights and sounds of spring. I wasn’t disappointed. Despite naked trees and the conspicuous absence of green, woodpeckers telegraphed their desires, ruffed grouse drummed, and a chorus of spring peepers announced the beginning of the season.

I went searching for vernal pools and found them in likely places – slight depressions in the forest floor where snowmelt collects this time of year, where small colonies of frogs magically appear to croak away any remnant of winter.

I knelt down next to a pool oblivious to the cool dampness still in the earth, and watched the frogs swim about. The water’s surface rippled every time the frogs sprang forth. They croaked alarm to each other regarding my presence then went about their amphibious business unperturbed. I wasn’t a threat as long as I didn’t move.

A bit later, on a south-facing slope soaking up the sun, I found a patch of wild leeks flaunting their verdure. I tore off the tip of one and chewed it. The pungent flavor was both familiar and heartwarming. Then I spotted them: small patches of round-lobed hepatica in bloom among the leeks. Their delicate petals burst forth atop fuzzy stems curling away from the earth. The first wildflower of the year was emerging so early I could hardly believe it.

I left the woods feeling a little giddy. I get that way every time the wild takes me by surprise. I went searching for spring and found more than I could have hoped for. After all these years, you’d think I would have it figured out by now. But there’s something about the natural world that’s eternally new, especially on days like these.


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Mar 25 2013

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On the Verge

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lily shootsThe green shoots of day lilies push up relentlessly through the half frozen soil in my front yard, as if seasonal change is inevitable. The tips of some are frostbitten, brown and withered, but they keep coming anyway. A recent big dump of snow convinces the winter weary among us that spring will never come. Yet in some ways it’s already here.

The buds on the maple tree in my back yard are red and swollen. The sap has been running for weeks. A red-winged blackbird – migrating north to be sure – landed in it a few days ago. A cardinal sings loudly from the top of another tree, establishing his territory early. There are a lot of squirrel tracks in the snow now. The snow itself is slowly disappearing in a barely discernible melt-off driven more by sunlight than warm temperatures. Yeah, to those of us paying careful attention, the spring season has already begun.

“See how the snow is drying up?” I kept telling my wife Judy yesterday, to the point where she grew annoyed with me. I couldn’t help myself. My favorite season is on the verge, and all I want to do is sing about it as the wild birds do. One daylong rain will make it obvious to everyone. The Vernal Equinox is behind us. The natural world is awakening from its long sleep.


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Mar 19 2012

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Early Spring Hike

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Judy kicked me out of the house yesterday, telling me that I badly needed to go for a hike in the woods. I didn’t argue. I was exhausted from yet another week of burning the candle at both ends but recognized the therapeutic power of getting outdoors. So I grabbed my pack and went. Matika was right on my heels, of course.

With the snow completely gone in the Champlain Valley and temps soaring into the 70s, there was no denying the outbreak of spring. The brown countryside I drove through looked more like March than April. What the heck, why not take advantage of the situation? I headed for the mountains.

The logging road I hiked up was soft and muddy – easy on my tired feet. I plodded along conserving what little energy I had. Matika, on the other hand, was all over the place sniffing about and running wildly. Silly dog.

I crept past a closed gate, some maple syrup lines and a blown beaver pond. Hardly any snow on the ground for the first mile, but that changed quickly once I crossed the Smith Brook, entering a copse of hemlocks. There the snow cover was patchy. A few minutes later I crossed the brook a second time, reaching the retreating edge of winter. I stopped for lunch. No point going any farther uphill.

Robin, fly, butterfly. At 1200 feet the natural world wasn’t exactly teeming with life, but the first signs of spring were apparent all the same. The murky brook was half full of runoff. Remnant moss and ferns offered green hope. The bright sun blazing through naked trees gave the forest a surreal look. I soaked it all in while slouching against a tree, daydreaming.

A handful of snow rubbed across my sweaty brow. A splash of mud on my pants as Matika raced past. And the raw, distinct smell of the earth awakening. That’s all I needed to celebrate the Spring Equinox a little in advance. The world this time of year is supposed to be stark, almost barren, stripped down to essentials. I expected nothing else. So the robins singing loudly later on at dusk came as a pleasant surprise.


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Mar 12 2012

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Lakeside Ramble

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With the sun shining through a cloudless sky and temps climbing into the 40s, Judy suggested that we go for a short walk along the shoreline at Kill Kare State Park. I agreed that we should get out and do something. I was exhausted from working all week while harboring some kind of respiratory virus but knew it wasn’t mentally healthy to stay indoors all day. Besides, a ramble along the lake wouldn’t be that taxing.

We brought the “chuck it” device to whip the dog’s ball inland while we walked. Matika badly needed the exercise. For obvious reasons, she doesn’t get out enough when I’m sick.

I saw a robin grazing on the snow-free lawn right before we headed out. I refrained from making too much of it. Yes, it’s starting to look and feel like spring but, as Judy reminded me, it’s still winter here in Vermont. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

A solitary fisherman sat on the punky ice, seemingly oblivious to the pressure cracks and open leads of water nearby. Better him than me. I stepped onto a sheet of ice along the shoreline, felt it give, then stepped back.

Good thing we were wearing our winter jackets. A chilling breeze whipped across the half frozen lake in stark contrast to the warming sun overhead. Mixed signals. Yeah, it’s that time of year.

I looked for some hint of fresh vegetation pushing up through the barren ground but found nothing. The buds of a few hardwoods were swollen, though.  It’s coming, slow but sure.  Patience, patience.

Judy and I didn’t talk much during our short walk, yet there passed between us a few knowing glances.  Not quite spring but it still felt good to get outside. Good enough for now, anyhow.


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Feb 27 2012

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Waiting for Spring

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The late February sun beats hard against the freshly fallen snow, warming it to the melting point. My stepsons and their families are headed to the ski slopes to play in the white stuff before it disappears, but I am more inclined to simply wait until spring.

Never a big fan of winter, I gaze upon the icicles dangling down from the roof of my house and smile vacantly. I know what this means. Now it’s just a matter of weeks before the earth thaws and vegetation begins its steady rise from dormancy.

I should grab my snowshoes and put them to good use while I can, but the cardinal singing loudly from a nearby tree reminds me that I’m more a creature of mud, unfurling leaves and running water. So I think I’ll just wait. It won’t be long now.

A mild winter portends an early spring. Okay, maybe March will be chock full of snowstorms. There have been plenty of Vermont winters like that in the past. But the bright sun and the new songbirds at my feeder tell me otherwise. Or maybe I’m just ready for the change.

Icicles don’t lie. Regardless what the month of March holds, these temporary stalactites are proof positive that winter can’t last forever. The earth wheels around the sun and the earth’s axis tilts inward. The rest is thermodynamics. So all we lovers of green things have to do is wait. It won’t be long now.


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Apr 27 2011

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The First Wildflower

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A few days ago, while hiking Aldis Hill, I noticed that several wildflowers were on the verge of blooming.  Some them can take more than a week to open.  Bloodroot and trilliums are a good example of this.  But round-lobed hepatica, a humble member of the buttercup family, usually opens right away.  So I went looking for it yesterday despite the rain.

At Judy’s suggestion, I went to Niquette Bay State Park.  It’s a good place to hunt for wildflowers this time of year.  It’s right on Lake Champlain where Vermont’s northern climate is slightly milder.  Dog friendly, too, which is good for Matika.  Midweek, raining, and early in the morning, I was certain to have the place to myself.  That sold me on it.  I went.

I noticed trilliums right away, but they weren’t open yet.  A few Dutchman’s breeches had taken form, but they were still green.  Patches of mottled green leaves caught my eye, but the trout lilies they sport were nowhere in sight.  Not yet.  I saw spring beauty drooping and closed against the rain.  Then I found them, amid moss-covered rocks – the first wildflowers of the season pushing up through the forest duff: hepatica.

To those of us who love all things green and growing, who simply endure winter, few things are more joyous than the first wildflowers of early spring.  What a relief to see them.  A smile broke involuntarily across my face while hungry eyes fell upon their delicate petals.  A woodpecker knocked nearby, a hermit thrush sang in the distance, and insects buzzed about.  No matter.  The first wildflower of the season is what turned me.  The world is reborn!

With my wife’s old camera, a great improvement over the cheap one I’ve been using the past year, I snapped several pictures of the tiny flower.  I didn’t mind lying on the wet, muddy earth while doing so.  In fact, I rather enjoyed it.  Then I went down to the water’s edge to ponder matters great and small before moving on.  Matika chewed a stick to pieces while I sat there.  Then we both finished the hike wet, wild and happy.

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Apr 21 2011

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Budding Trees

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The slightest flurry of snow blows into my yard this morning.  Here in the North Country, winter is not quite finished with us yet, or so it seems.  But the budding trees tell a different story.

The other day I noticed catkins drooping down from poplars along the Rail Trail, then admired the intricate, reddish flowers of the silver maple in my backyard.  The latter, illuminated by sunlight, were too beautiful for words – a true wonder of nature upon close inspection.

I was well into my twenties before it dawned on me that all broad leaf trees are flowering plants.  How could I not know this in my teens?  I marvel at my inattention back then – how little I noticed the world around me.  Oh sure, I saw apple blossoms and the like, yet somehow the smaller, more subtle tree flowers escaped my attention.  I saw only barren branches and longed for the leafy, green explosion that was imminent.

Most people become cranky and impatient in early spring.  They pretty much stay that way until the trees leaf out, the lilacs bloom ostentatiously, and the first sunny, 75-degree day arrives.  All the groundwork for the growing season is done by then.  The songbirds and wild animals know this but somehow it escapes the vast majority of us humans.  Why is that?

These disproportionately large brains of ours separate us from the rest of Creation.  That’s both our defining attribute and our greatest curse.  Being human, we live inside our heads much of the time, preoccupied with abstractions, not seeing the obvious.  I suspect that this is more the case now than it ever was – our infatuation with all things digital knowing no bounds.  I like to think that I’m an exception to this rule, but springtime in all its glorious unfolding usually proves me wrong.  No matter how hard I try, I always miss at least half of it.

“Pay attention!” the cardinal sings from the treetop.  The woodpecker knocks out the same refrain.  All flowering plants, both herbaceous and woody, underscore it.  Yet all I see on a chilly, gray morning like this is the ephemeral snow flurry.  And all I can think about is summertime fun.  It’s a crime against nature to be sure.

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Apr 15 2011

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Mud and Water

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After a week on the road, I wanted to reconnect with my home turf.  French Hill seemed like just the place to do that, so I parked my car in front of a closed gate yesterday and tramped into the quasi-public reserve there.  I went looking for signs of spring, of course.  It’s that time of year.

Matika ran about, wild and free.  She was absolutely elated to be in the woods again.  My reaction was a bit more subdued.  I felt relief, pure and simple.  The world is mad.  The quiet forest is the only thing that makes any sense to me.

Nearly a thousand feet above the Champlain Valley, the high rolling ground around French Hill is still recovering from winter.  Patches of snow linger on the forest floor, and both beaver ponds are still half covered with ice.  I visited the larger one first since it was close to the logging trail.  My boots sank deep into the mud.  My tracks filled with water.  Here in Vermont, you don’t enter the woods this time of year unless you’re okay with mud and water.

A few peepers chirped from the edges of the large pond – hardly the chorus I had hoped for.  Spring is coming late this year, thanks to all the snow that fell this winter.  That’s okay.  It felt good to have soft earth underfoot regardless.

I had to bushwhack to reach the smaller beaver pond.  I followed the tiny stream flowing down from the larger pond then approached smaller one slowly.  Three mallards were floating there.  I didn’t want to disturb them so I kept Matika behind me.

Woodpeckers had been busy digging in a dead tree along the edge of the pond.  The beaver lodge on the far end of the pond had a few new sticks piled on top of it.  The mallards swam over to the icy half of the pond then went for a short walk.  I watched them for a while before following a fresh set of deer tracks back to the logging trail.  Matika and I spooked the deer a few minutes later.

Before leaving the smaller pond, I found the bright green shoots of false hellebore breaking through the forest duff.  I almost stepped on them.  Didn’t think much about it until I reached my car, but those shoots were the first new vegetation I’ve seen in the Vermont woods this year.  John Burroughs once wrote that the first signs of spring are always down low in the wet spots, not on the high, dry ridges.  It makes sense really.  After all, mud and water is what early spring is all about.

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