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I think most Mainers will agree that the worst of winter is over and there’s nothing more to dread. We will likely see a few more storms, some “wintry mix” weather and even a few cold nights, but for all intents and purposes this unusually non-winter is just about over.
I am not one to project about anything as nebulous as the seasons but when the maple sap is running, the crocuses and daffodils are pushing up out of the leaves and the trees in the yard are full of red-winged blackbirds, the hints are palpable. The snow has to go and mud time is yet to come l, but we are so close now. Even the biggest grouches in town have noticed that it’s much warmer and the days are much longer. I don’t have to mention that retailers are already plugging their spring lineups and the outdoor stores are pushing the spring turkey season that is still two months away.
I’m not quite ready to say goodbye to winter just because I enjoy my daily treks in the snow-covered woods. Deer, moose, raccoons, porcupines and even a few opossums have wandered through in recent days, all of them as anxious as we are to enjoy a taste of spring.
Twice this month I’ve been awakened in the night by the “loud,” unmistakable odor of passing skunks. I haven’t seen a live one yet, but they are making their presence known. I don’t mind seeing or smelling skunks but I hope they decide to take up housekeeping under someone else’s porch. Skunks are attractive in their own black-and-white way and the babies are cute enough, but all this springtime joy should be enjoyed from a distance. Get any closer than 20 feet and you are likely to get more of the “essence” of spring than you bargained for!
Thanks to a much warmer winter than normal I’ve only used half my woodpile. But, as I dig deeper into the neat stack of oak and maple I see that I’m not the only one who’s benefiting from the balmy temperatures. Thus far I’ve uncovered four nests where enterprising mice took advantage of the woodpile (and the plastic tarp that covers it) to make a cozy home out of grass, bark and leaves.
I don’t mind having mice around as long as they stay outdoors, but it turns out that I am not the only threat they face. The recent storms carrying find, powdery snow blew tiny trails of white between the stacks of wood and during the worst of it I discovered the tracks of someone’s roving housecat. I’m not sure how the mice made out or if there were any fatalities, but it’s obvious that there is danger to confront even in the depths of a tidy, covered woodpile.
I don’t have to go far to find evidence of wild things showing their own impatience for the coming of spring. The old chicken house has been empty and unused for a few years because, sad to say, the outrageous cost of grain makes it more sensible to buy chicken at the grocery store. There are no signs of Rhode Island Reds around the pen, but that doesn’t stop the weasels, foxes and fishers from making a quick stop on the way by. In fact, for a few weeks this winter I noticed that the sunflower seeds I put out each night to feed the turkeys was disappearing before the birds left their roost in the morning. Each day at dawn I’d wake up to the yelps and purrs of hungry turkeys. Some of them would even come up on the front porch and peck at my front door, demanding a hand-out!
I decided to investigate and see what was cleaning up the seeds overnight. I aimed the motion sensor on my floodlights on the center of the pile and hoped it would come on and, if not scare the moocher away, at least awaken me so I could have a look.
Sure enough, one moonlit night the outside floods came on, bathing the back yard with light. I snuck up to the window and saw a nice, fat gray fox sitting with his back to me, happily munching away on the gallon of seed I’d put out just before dark.
I don’t often see a gray fox though I know they are common, so I just watched him clean up the last of the seeds before he skittered away into the shadows. Seeing a fox that close (just 10 feet from my window) was worth the price of a few handfuls of seed, so I just flicked the lights off and vowed to wake up a little earlier so I could put more seeds out for the turkeys.
Mid-March is a time of transition for all of us, wild and civilized. Winter is almost over and spring is just around the corner but neither season has the upper hand just yet. It could snow several more times in the coming weeks or, like a lamb, winter may just give up and go quietly. Everyone with an interest in the process looks on impatiently because balmy as winter has been we’ve had enough of it. There are nests to be built, dens to be made, attics to be cleaned and gardens to be planted. Indoors and out, we are all waiting for the same thing, counting the hours till the long, lively days of spring finally arrive.
I won’t rush it, enjoying the last of the ice-fishing and rabbit hunting that, legally at least, are ours to pursue till the end of the month. I’ll make the most of winter while it’s still here, and then make the switch to trout fishing and turkey hunting.
I’m in no hurry – the seasons pass too quickly and I want to savor each day no matter what lies ahead or behind. The clock never stops ticking and the cycling seasons do not wait. Get outdoors, look around and take time to participate. Don’t miss a minute of it!
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