Enthusiasm for an early spring seems to have taken hold across the state of Maine. Some signs of warmer weather are obvious such as mud in the dooryard, turkeys gobbling from their roosts at dawn and, perhaps most surprising of all, daffodils poking up through the last remnants of snow on the south side of the house. Earlier sunrises and later sunsets also point to the last gasps of winter but, as any long-time Mainer knows, it’s not over yet. We can expect to see a good mix of wind, rain, snow, sleet and more mud before our thoughts turn to gardening and mowing the lawn.
I am in no particular rush to see winter’s end but I am fortunate in that I don’t have to rush out every morning and rush home again every afternoon. My pace is much slower now. I have the time to sit on the deck with a hot cup of tea and watch the restless turkeys work their way down the hill and across the field to the feeders. At dawn the doves, over 50 of them, come in for their share of the cracked corn and sunflower seeds and somewhere in between the blue jays, juncos, chickadees and titmice make their presence known.
I have been working on firewood for the last few weeks, hoping to get it all put up inside the wood shed before spring cleanup begins. The chore is enjoyable enough except that now the area around the shed is ankle deep in thick, black muck. I had to create a pathway using pieces of plywood, old boards and a concrete block or two just to get from the woodpile to the shed, but that’s the price one pays for working on wood at the end of February. The wood is there, the shed is there and the weather is balmy enough to justify the effort. I suppose wiping the mud off a few sticks of oak, maple or ash is what’s to be expected. Little by little I’m winning the game, even though I’m only able to carry in a half-dozen sticks at a time. It’s certainly not the Great Wall of China but the concept is the same. Every little bit helps.
I have noticed quite a few changes among the wild things of late. For example, it seems as if the hawks are coming back a little earlier than usual. This week alone I saw four red-tailed hawks sitting in tall, bare trees at every corner of the pasture, and I have seen a couple of buzzards sailing overhead in just the last few days. I’m thinking it’s a tad early for these predators and scavengers to be moving in but I assume they know something I don’t. I wouldn’t want to predict an early end to winter based solely on a few bird observations but, hey, this is the time of year for such speculation.
I mentioned skunks and raccoons last week and, since then, I have seen more of both at night and even during the day. Most of the skunks I see are highway casualties but on the warmest, wettest night last week I could smell the unmistakable scent of skunk in the air. There were two dead skunks in the road less than a mile in either direction which probably means their best means of defense did them little good against a fast-moving vehicle.
Also of late I’ve seen more deer crossing the road than I have in months. One night recently I was coming home just at dark and saw three of them trying to get across a low spot near a town cemetery. I stopped to let them cross and was glad to see that they were fat and healthy-looking. At least they are better at crossing the road than most skunks!
Another good sign of spring is a bad sign for ice-fishermen. I had thought to go out and give it one last try before warm weather takes over but I fear I was already too late. A fisherman’s shack that had been out on the lake all winter had sunken into the ice nearly to the roof. Its owners had surrounded the shelter with snowmobiles, ropes and cables but by then the shack had fallen through two or three layers of ice, slush and water. The shack was about 200 yards out on the ice, about where I was going to cut a few holes and start fishing. I have fallen through rotten ice a time or two in the long distant past and was none too keen to repeat the experience. I’m sure many waters are still covered with safe ice and fishing should be productive well into March, but I decided to spend the day traipsing through the woods. There have been enough snowmobile crashes and lost ice-fishing shacks to suggest that a change of seasons is well upon us. March and December are the periods when most accidents and deaths occur among those who participate in winter sports. From this point on caution is the watchword. Let’s hope there are no more mishaps or fatalities during this very strange winter of 2016.
I did my part in avoiding statistical disaster by strapping on my snowshoes and heading into the woods for a look around. My hard-packed trail is mostly mush now, a combination of water, ice and compacted snow that makes winter trekking very difficult, even on established trails. Parts of the trail I walk are also used by cross-country skiers, snowmobilers and ATV riders, which means the surface is continually chewed up, pitted and full of bare spots. Walking on foot is difficult enough under such conditions and snowshoes provide minimal improvement. There’s enough slipping, sliding and stumbling going on to make even a short trip a sweaty workout. My biggest concern is snapping a snowshoe or binding. In some places I get off the trail because the walking is much easier where the snow has not been disturbed, but unless we get a lot more snow very soon conditions are likely to continue to deteriorate.
It seems to be too early for winter’s end but according to my daffodils the worst is behind us!