The willow trees near the main road are sending out shoots of yellow green, and it’s clear the mountains are about to explode in a myriad of greens. For now, though, the daffodils and the tiny sunlit green dots on the trees cast a glow over our small town.
The Dairy Bar is open now, and people are stopping in for ice cream after Little League or for a sunny batter-dipped dinner after work. The air is thick with the smell of manure-plowed fields and fruit blossoms. At the market, the pansies are being replaced by petunias as the days grow longer, and bales of straw are being stacked for gardeners emerging from their hibernation.
I’m watching a story that’s being told again in small towns across the country. I’ve seen it unfold over ten times now, and it’s a tale that never gets old.
It’s always an event when we’re not late getting out the door to school. I can count on one hand the times Thing1 has been about to rush out the door without a backpack or Thing2 had to go back to their room to grab one more action figure for show-and-tell. So when we got out the door this morning with both backpacks fully packed, homework finished, and two boys breakfasted and brushed (Mom eats after the chaos), it was nothing short of a minor miracle.
We bundled ourselves into the car and headed out the driveway. We go the same way everyday, and most days I slow a bit as we approach the little horse farm at the bottom of our dirt road. Today, I stopped.
Over the last week, Mother Nature had put away the pinky-browns and blues she’d been using during mud season and pulled out her spring palette. As we descended, the morning sun bathed the hill in gold, and we all noticed how the grass had suddenly become green. A few daffodils were poking through the leaves by the fence that runs along the road, reminding us that, whatever else is happening in the world, it’s still April. I exhaled again and snapped a quick pic before rebooting the morning school run.
There are more mornings than not that I have to stop and snap a few photos of this hill and the tiny horse farm framed by the rounded mountains. Part of me is always surprised that, after over ten years living on this road, the scenery still takes my breath away. It’s the answer to a question I started as a teenager while visiting southern Bavaria with friends of the family.
Our friends had a vacation home in one of the centuries-old towns that dots that mountainous regions. We were there in the summer, and the crystal blue lakes and then-snowcapped Alps in the back ground constantly took my breath away. I always wondered, though, if living with that beauty everyday would minimize its impact. Today, as I’m snapping pictures and smiling on my way to school, I’m thinking once again about how the answer to that question is still one my favorite daily miracles.
We’re well into the first full week of spring and snow still covers our yard. It’s almost time to plant peas, and my garden is a slushy mess. The fact that Vermont’s gardening season commenced at least a week or three behind the calendars in every gardening book (even one or two written by Vermonters) once caused me consternation. By March, I’m ready to get out of the house and start digging.
A decade of digging later, however, I’ve learned to relax about this thing I absolutely can’t control. My springtime serenity stems from two sources. The first comes from observing the long-term effects of that saturating late winter snow pac. Soggy in spring but still moist enough to prevent the need for watering well into summer, I’ve come to trust that Mother Nature knows what she’s doing. The other source of my calm comes from discovering a spring signal far more reliable (and delicious) than a date circled on my calendar.
The sap buckets start appearing in late January. The large maple syrup operations set long blue tap lines that run from tree to tree and then into huge covered containers, but there are still plenty of do-it-yourselfer’s and small operators who use the old-fashioned taps and buckets that are symbolic of the season.
We made maple syrup a few years in a row. Our buckets were recycled milk jugs. We collected sap for days and made exactly one gallon (you need 32 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup) on our old wood stove. Our old house was drafty enough that we didn’t mind turning our kitchen into a sauna for a few days, and it was the best maple syrup we ever tasted.
We buy our syrup now, and, even though it’s available at even the smallest producers through most of the year, picking up a gallon or two at the end of March has become as much a ritual as taking Thing2 to see Santa at the town Christmas party or planting my peas in soggy spring soil.
The steam started pouring from the sugar houses in late winter. Even now, the nighttime temperatures are still mostly in the freezing range even as the days get warmer, and the sap still flows. Last weekend, the first weekend in spring, the sugar houses opened their doors to tasters and tours, but it was just a date on the calendar. For me, it won’t be until the sap slows that spring will really begin. It’s when the sap buckets along our road come down.
It doesn’t make the spring season any less welcome, but it does make it a little bittersweet.