Vernal Equinox

March 20, 2017

It’s true that the start of spring can seem pretty subtle here in Maine, but the steadily increasing light and off-again, on-again rise in temperature have an inescapable impact on everything alive.  It might look a lot like winter out there, but it’s not. Spring is here, it’s just quiet, taking place unobserved under bark or skin, as sap rises or an animal’s hormones shift.  At this point, spring is more something felt than observed, but if you look closely you can see small signs of it.  Buds are already swelling on the maples.  Jackets are not always needed, and yesterday a slim stoat zipped over the snow outside my window in a coat that was mostly pure winter white, but that showed on the back a trace of summer caramel coloring.

Everything says “Now!”
Beamed back from melting snow fields,
twelve hours of sunlight

Pruning Crabapple Trees at the Start of Daylight Saving Time

March 12, 2017

It is the start of daylight saving time today.  We woke to bright sunlight and an outdoor temperature of 3 degrees F.  While that level of cold does not make one think of the start of spring, twelve hours of daylight does.  In the end, the light—not the cold—will win out; new growth, though hard to see, is already on the way.

I figured the spate of cold weather was keeping our crabapple trees dormant for a few more days and that provided a chance for some needed pruning.  While I had to wear full winter gear including snowshoes, this, for me, was a welcomed early-spring task.

Sliced, the fruit tree shoots
drop onto hard crusted snow—
sunlight everywhere

The Colors of Snow

January 2, 2017

Last Thursday we got a big, heavy snowfall, twenty inches or so, the sort of winter weather wallop that we haven’t seen for a few years.  There were strong winds and some underlying ice conditions too, so for some the storm brought the suffering and hardship of travel accidents and power outages. For just about all of us it brought the hard work of cleaning up and shoveling out.  So, it certainly wasn’t unmixed good news for us humans, but the landscape the snowstorm left behind was and still is beautiful.

It’s the kind of snow whose top layer is comprised of billions of intact crystals that reflect the winter sunlight in sparkles, here and there refracting it to flashes of lime green or fiery red. It’s the kind of snow that’s so deep that a hole poked by a ski pole–or, as is more likely for those still busy with cleanup, the handle of a snow rake–will create a small cavern the same otherworldly blue of glacier ice (and for the same reasons too: crystalized water absorbs more red light than blue, allowing the blue light to bounce and scatter back).

These are conditions that can and do change daily as the temperatures rise and fall and new weather patterns roll in. Rain is forecast for tomorrow, so it seems important to notice some of what greets our senses now.

Not our living world,
but I would gladly travel
those blue snow spaces

Version 3

A Harvest of Leaves

oak-leaves

 

December 12, 2016

Oak leaf harvest time—
what seems like so much litter
will be soil wealth

It’s been two weeks since I wrote this haiku, but in that short interval the weather has transitioned sharply to winter.  We are not at the solstice yet, but the ground is hard and snow covered, more snow is falling, and the temperatures have held to below freezing for days.  There is no going back now; it’s winter in central Maine.

The haiku is set in late November—the 28th to be exact–in that brief period when all the leaves are finally down, even from the late-shedding oaks, but there is, as yet, no snowcover.

Knowing that snow is just days away from settling in for good is a strong incentive for getting final winter-prep chores done.  For my husband and me that means gathering in a final harvest of the leaves—mostly oak— that lie strewn about the lawn and drive.  We rake and blow the leaves into piles, shred these piles with a mower, and then spread the contents of the resulting heaps— now much diminished in size—as a mulch on the vegetable and flower beds.  It’s hard, but satisfying work.  Shredding the leaves encourages the decomposition process; when the snow melts in the spring the leaf mulch will be a good compost, in place and ready for turning under.  Working with the leaves gives a feeling of abundance.  Oaks are generous trees.

Winterberry Magic

Version 2

November 17, 2016

It’s mid-November.  Even the oaks have shed their leaves.  Of all the birds that were with us in summer only a few–the chickadees, titmice, and nuthatches–remain to visit the feeder.  The landscape is now a study in beige, brown, and gray.

But this spare, subdued world is not without moments of astonishing vibrancy.  On the verge of a dark, leafless stand of woods, or across an expanse of wizened marsh grass, one suddenly becomes aware of floating, cloud-like clusters of brilliant, red-orange berries.  These are the fruit of the winterberry (Ilex verticulata), small, vivid globes of cheer that cling to the shrub’s smooth gray twigs long after its leaves have dropped.  Their appearance in this season of ebbing life can seem pretty close to magical.

Red winterberry—
Will your fire disappear
if we rub our eyes?

First Nor’easter

October 29, 2016

Its name might be the creation of the 19th century press rather than a genuine holdover from the salty dialect of Down-east Maine, but a Nor’easter is a very real and powerful meteorological phenomenon, a gale-force wind cycling in from the North Atlantic to dump its heavy burden of moisture (rain or snow) along a wide margin of the coast. Nor’easters tend not to occur in the summer months, but as the autumn deepens and temperatures fall, Maine, and most of the East coast of the US becomes vulnerable to these storms.  Our first Nor’easter roared in yesterday.

Our house is a good twenty-five miles from the ocean, but when a northeast gale blows, it always seems to me that we are right on the coast, face-to-face with the powerful gray North Atlantic itself.

It’s a humbling feeling.  Suddenly, staying warm, dry, and out of the wind, and keeping those you care about in that same condition, becomes the primary concern.  Glowing hearths, roofs that don’t leak, tight windows, water-proof parkas, a decent pair of boots, all now are items of great worth.  Life itself seems to draw inward.

 

Even the high heads
of the stoutest oaks are bowed–
first Northeastern gale

 

noreaster

 

Autumn Morning Glories

October 24 2016

morning-glory

 

Most of the morning glories that climb up the strings I tie for them each year are low maintenance and reseed themselves, but the Heavenly Blue variety are an exception.  Because I do not want to leave their appearance to chance, each May I buy some seeds for planting.

When these morning glories start to bloom in mid-August it is always gratifying to see that they are indeed as extravagantly large and enticingly blue as the pictures on the seed packets promised.  And they keep on blooming through September and October, unfurling fresh buds each morning with big-hearted ease, even when the purple and white morning glories have stopped and the nighttime temperatures have slipped from cool to pretty chilly.

It is now, after the first light frost, that I admire them the most, the deep blue of their fragile trumpets an echo of the clear October sky.

Wind and early frost
turn the sky its truest blue—
final morning glories