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I think it’s safe to say we’ve all stopped looking for signs of spring. Whatever your personal cue is I’m sure it’s already come and gone. What strikes me now is how fast the time seems to be going. I’ve already mowed my lawn (really just the green patch over the leach field) and the leaves are so thick on the trees I can’t see the mountains in the distance anymore.
What shocked me most this week is that the little buck that’s been coming in to feed on free grain and bird seed has velvety antlers that are almost 3 inches long already! This little guy (and the doe that always accompanies him) looks patchy and raggedy these days, their winter hair falling out in handfuls as the days become progressively warmer. There’s nothing sleek and graceful about them right now – but in a few weeks that will change.
Another sign of approaching summer is one that actually includes me. I have a rule about getting my firewood in by June 1 (mostly because I can’t stand working that hard in summer’s heat and humidity), and to my surprise the wood pile is nearly finished – cut, split and ready to spend the summer curing in anticipation of yet another Maine winter.
This year I was lucky enough to find a stand of oak, which makes great firewood. Of course, I left the largest, acorn-producing trees that have been here since before the Fire of ’47, but there were scores of smaller “one split and you’re done” trees all over the hillside that needed to be thinned. A few days of cutting, a few days of splitting and it’s all done.
When it comes to work I much prefer the kind that requires little brain and all brawn. I’m descended from a long line of laborers with strong shoulders and backs, people who do best when assigned a job and then are left to complete the project. When faced with a mountain of wood to be split I slip into some kind of Zen zone, whittling away at the pile for hours on end and don’t think at all about deadlines, quotas, punching the clock, meetings or managers. It’s just me, the splitter and the pile – and I know that with a little time and effort I’ll get the job done.
One weakness I have is pausing for a moment every time I split a piece of black birch. The scent that arises from the wet wood is similar to the taste of a bottle of cold birch beer – sweet and pungent, a reminder of a time some 50 years ago when an old woodsman gave me my first bottle of the brew. He made it himself, tapping the trees just as today’s maple syrup farmers do, and the stuff was as tasty as any store-bought soda.
Every year I enjoy a sip of birch beer just to remember, and every time I split a stick of black birch the memories come back to me. Wood smoke in September is another olfactory memory jogger, as is the scent of balsam fir and the odor of thick steaks on the grill.
The surest, earliest sign of summer is the sudden proliferation of boats on the lake – and on the road. Any body of water you pass is likely to have a few boats, canoes or kayaks on it, especially on weekends. I often wonder what they are fishing for, or if they are catching anything. Some folks just like to ride around the lake and visit their summer-camp neighbors, but the boats that are cruising close to shore are likely to be fishermen, and I always hope they catch a big one.
Anyone who lives near water will recognize the calls of loons in the dark as certain signs of summer. Actually, I heard my first loons weeks ago. The birds were flying around and around the lake all day, perhaps looking for new territory or maybe they were just avoiding the first fishing boats of the year.
Now that things have settled down I hear the loons calling frequently well after dark. It’s amazing how far their voices will carry. I am at least five miles from the nearest loon lake and yet I can hear them clear as a bell on toward midnight when I step out on the deck for a last look around. At night the loons’ call seems more languid, serene and satisfied, as if they’d filled up on fish all day, all the predators are gone and there’s nothing to do but float around and rejoice about it all.
While getting my firewood in I noticed that the blueberry bushes are loaded with blooms again this year. I’d heard that some years are better than others but last year’s crop was fantastic and from the looks of things I’ll have to make more room in the freezer. Somewhere along the middle of January I start digging into my stash of blueberries and before long I have to start rationing my supply or I’ll run out before the next batch is ready to pick.
It’s always fascinating to see the subtle changes that go on in the wild world in spite of what we humans are up to. Nature forges on unimpeded by man’s feeble attempt to control the world around him. We tend to forget, neglect or defer but nature is always there to fill in the voids. The seasons come and go with our without our blessing but with due warning. Even the smallest hints are clues that we don’t always understand. What we do (or should do) invariably depends on what’s happening outside our windows. Ignore the subtle signs of the changing seasons and you will find yourself scurrying to catch up. Whether it’s time to plant, mow or split wood, the signs are there. Take the time to observe, enjoy and learn from what the wild world is telling us. It’s a great show, it’s going on all around us and it’s free!
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