The day after last week’s mighty blizzard, which dumped upwards of two feet of snow across the state, it looked as if spring had been set back a month or more. Snow covered everything in knee-deep powder that quickly melted and compacted, making digging out a real chore.
Oddly enough the immediate south side of the house was nearly bare, with daffodils and crocuses standing tall, insisting that spring is right around the corner. There are no blooms as of yet but all of the necessary structures are there – all we need is a few more days of sunshine and balmy weather.
I like the looks of a freshly-fallen snow and spent a lot of my non-shoveling time sipping tea and gazing into the pure white distance. That first post-storm day looked and felt similar to that week in mid-December when we were hit by three storms in a row. This one, however, was different in that by Day Two the snow on the roof was melting and I could see stones here and there along the field edges that had been buried just 24 hours earlier.
On the morning of Day Three I looked out and my field and yard were filled with the tracks of deer, porcupines, turkeys, foxes and squirrels. Soon there were trails crisscrossing the field that were down to bare earth in places, and by the end of the week the big, bad blizzard had been diminished by more than half its bulk. My roof was clear and the various paths in the yard were down to bare grass and gravel again.
Granted, there is still plenty of snow on the ground for those who like to snowmobile, ski or snowshoe, but since we moved the clocks ahead the feeling remains that winter is waning and spring is poised to burst upon us. I for one can’t ignore the strutting turkeys in my yard, the optimistic whistling of my gang of bluebirds and, the day of the storm, a crowd of robins that continued to feed in the field until the snow became too deep for foraging.
Hard to ignore, too, are the larger animals that have come out of their winter stupor already including raccoons, porcupines and opossums. For a moment last week I saw a chipmunk racing around in the wood shed. All of this activity is a sure sign that the mating or birthing season is on the near horizon.
Snow depths notwithstanding the buds on the trees are the most prominent yet subtle indicators of impending spring. My fruit tree buds are about to burst, as are the maples, poplars and blueberries. My rose bushes look more alive than they have all winter and even the raspberry canes are showing signs of life.
Whatever snow we have from now on can be considered “poor man’s fertilizer.” It will soften the ground, flood the soil and encourage anything with roots, stems and leaves to get busy. I would not break out the lawn furniture just yet but in the next few weeks I am certain that we will begin to turn the final corner from winter into spring.
For those who are happy to let winter go in a gradual fashion there is still a week left of Maine’s hare-hunting season, which closes March 31. Considering the depth of snow that presently blankets the woods it will be a little bit tougher to see a white-furred hare against the whiter background, but experienced hunters know how to sort through the various shades of white, black and green to focus on a hare sitting in a patch of tangled alders or up under a fallen tree.
I tend to look first for the hare’s rounded form and then its big, black eye. At this time of year I’ll hunker down on my snowshoes and scan the woods around me with binoculars, which makes spotting the motionless hare much easier.
A hare will let a hunter approach to within 10 yards or so before skittering away. If there is plenty of hare sign try hunting with a beagle or two. Expect the hares to run in long, wide-ranging circles at this time of year but be patient – they’ll come back around. When the snow is solidly packed a hare can really turn on the accelerator, leaving the dogs far behind in the crust. With persistent hounds and a patient hunter it should be easy enough to end the day with a limit of four hares.
The ice-fishing season remains open through the end of the month as well but due to iffy conditions during the latter part of the winter it’s important to check ice depths carefully before heading out for a day of jigging. Most of the shacks on the lakes and ponds in my area are already off the ice but some intrepid anglers are still out there hoping to catch the last trout, salmon or pickerel of the season. Stick close to shore, test the ice frequently and whenever there’s doubt back off and try another spot. We’ve had enough accidents and deaths this year and Maine’s open water fishing season begins April 1, so why risk another through-the-ice disaster?
One logical alternative is to avoid the ice in southern or central Maine and head for the far northern portion of the state for these last few days of ice-fishing season. I have heard of lakes that have 20 or more inches of ice on them right now, especially in the secluded coves and shaded bays, but as always it’s best to check with local authorities before venturing onto the ice at this time of year. Use caution and take no chances – if it looks bad it probably is. Go back or go around, but don’t proceed and hope you make it. Once you break through rotten ice in late March there’s not a lot of time to reconsider your options!