Finally, all discussion about spring can come to a close, and all it took was a week of rain followed by a week of sunshine – glorious sunshine. My daily walkabouts in the yard and in the woods showed very little change during April and early May, but now there’s no question – it’s here!
Just since the rain stopped on Mother’s Day (for a while at least) green has been the watchword over most of the central and southern portions of the state. Trees are budding, the grass is green (and tall enough to mow!), and anything that lives on water, sunshine and soil is getting in on the act. While my daffodils are about gone (eaten mostly by red and gray squirrels), the phlox is blooming and my fruit trees are determined to flower and push out their new leaves for all to see.
I took a chance a while back and planted some spinach, radishes and turnips and, miraculously, they’re all up and going strong. Last year’s strawberry plants have come back and are about to flower, which is a surprise considering how much the deer loved to nip on them well into last winter.
New birds are showing up every day now. Overnight I heard loons, blackbirds, geese and hawks that have not been in this area since late last fall. All the critters are storming in, it seems, anxious to take advantage of the now dominant yet belated spring.
I hate to say it but the black flies are in transition as well. They were swarming harmlessly just a few days ago but now and then one will get the urge to bite, which means the onslaught will begin soon; time to get some serious DEET repellent and use it generously from head to toe. Truth be told I have had more encounters with ticks than with any other insect, although during those first sunny days in April I was under siege by wasps of all species. They seemed to be at every door and window opening in the house and were already making nests under the eaves when I got the foaming spray out to greet them. I am not a fan of stinging insects, particularly yellow jackets and those ill-tempered white-faced hornets which have become quite common in recent years.
Anyway, the ticks have been the most abundant pests so far. I have to check myself even after just walking around the yard with the day’s first (or last) cup of tea. I’m also a proud town official, working on the Cemetery Committee to help get our ancient cemeteries cleaned up and the veterans’ graves flagged, and every time I visit one of these sites to cut brush, whack weeds or clean headstones I end up covered with ticks. The odd thing is that I cover up, wear high boots and hose myself down with bug spray but, by day’s end, I always find a few of the blood-sucking freeloaders on me somewhere. High tick numbers were predicted by “the experts” due to the relatively mild winter that’s just passed, and so far tick confrontations lead the list of insect-related events. I’m sure once the black flies and mosquitoes hear about this they’ll take action to correct the situation, but that’s life in Maine at this time of year.
As is my usual pattern I have been mixing early-morning turkey hunting with midday trout fishing but have not had any great luck on either front. I have seen turkeys, plenty of them in fact, but they are all hens or immature males (jakes). I don’t want to waste a tag on a jake and it is illegal to shoot hens in spring, so there’s been a stalemate so far. I do hear gobbling over the hill every day (who doesn’t?) but those birds that I’ve called in have been jakes whose call is bigger than their beards. There is one big, long-bearded tom in this area but I haven’t seen him in several weeks. He’s a loner, always coming in silently and rarely sticking around for more than a few minutes. He also shows no interest in calls, decoys or even other turkeys, so he’ll be a hard one to get.
The trout have been a little more cooperative but prior to Mother’s Day I had only caught a few per trip. For some reason even the bridge pools and deep holes contain few fish and my guess is that it’s all about water temperature. Until the water reaches 55 degrees or so the trout will continue their relatively dormant state. I know, however, that nearly the instant the water warms up the fish will start feeding as if they were starving – that’s when it’s time to drop the rake and grab the fishing pole.
Another fish that is extremely temperature sensitive is the landlocked salmon. It’s a Maine tradition for anglers to drift, paddle or motor slowly across salmon lakes and ponds using streamers, sewn minnows and assorted smelt-imitating lures in hopes of catching a big salmon cruising along the surface. There’s something to be said about being on the water as the sun comes up on a cool May morning, watching the wake of the canoe and waiting for a big salmon to strike. What usually happens is that the angler starts to make a sandwich, fiddles with his gear or gazes into the distance for moment and, wham, a fish hits just beyond the prop wash. Many a salmon has stolen an expensive lure and saved his own life using such tactics, educating another angler in the process. Fishermen who have dealt with landlocks for many years are always on the alert and ready for a salmonid sneak attack, but freshman fishermen are invariably fooled at least once, and once is all it takes.
Obviously, there is a lot going on out there right now. Find a way to get into the woods or on the water before spring turns to summer and greater responsibilities get in the way!