We are coming to the end of March and things are slowly changing. The picnic table had two feet of snow all winter long. There is still a foot of snow covering the yard, and walking down to the lake is best done with hiking poles, but look at that open water. It happened earlier this week. We were sitting on our sheltered porch, back when there was bright sunshine, and suddenly a narrow channel of water appeared before us. A strong wind from the south began blowing up the lake and we watched waves fold over the ice, breaking it up, and ice floes began to form and then separate, and flow northward. Chunks rattled and clacked against the rocks on the shoreline, and great white shapes formed and reformed out in the lake. Just as it took exactly the right temperature and the right direction of the wind to flash-freeze the lake, the same conditions had to come into alignment to set it free. And, I got to witness both remarkable events, from the porch of my very own house. It feels really profound to me–otherworldly somehow–and I’ll think about why that is so in the weeks ahead. But, my guess is, this it what I will always remember about winter 2019.
Now, the mud season is upon us, and it is ugly. Cars are lined up at the car washes, as we pay five bucks for five miles of clean driving. Everybody in Montana has that line of dirt on their pant leg, down at the calf, from stepping out of a car coated in mud. It’s open burning season, and the highways are covered with dirt from a winter of sanding, so a layer of brown haze hovers over the fields. I feel like I am Pig-Pen, the Peanuts cartoon character, who walked with a cloud of dirt behind him. Yet, there are wonderful sights to see. The Canada geese are hunkered down in fields which are clear of snow, and as they move about in the stubble, often all you see are their black curved necks rising up out of the ground. Our very own pair are sitting on Johnson’s frozen pond, waiting for it to open up. Great flocks of tundra swans are flying overhead, dazzlingly white, making their haunting call. The seagulls have returned, and so many bird songs fill the air in the new light of morning.
We’re having freezing fog this morning, and a cold front is on its way with night-time temperatures dipping back below 32 degrees for a while. Our rainy season is coming–we hope not too soon, as we need the snowpack to stay up in the mountains for as long as possible. There is nothing quite so cold as a 40 degree soaking rain in springtime. When Don takes the outdoor Christmas trees to his slash pile, he’ll need to fill the wheelbarrow with more firewood for the front porch. Still, someday very soon, after a few sunshine filled afternoons, I’ll get reports from Rita of snowdrops and buttercup sightings. When the snow finally melts on the terrace, tiny purple violets will suddenly appear out of nowhere between the stones. Our spring is really just a “handful of separate moments and single afternoons”, but sometimes, on the good days, it feels like enough anyway.
“Poets and songwriters speak highly of spring as one of the great joys of life in the temperate zone, but in the real world most of spring is disappointing. We looked forward to it too long, and the spring we had in mind in February was warmer and dryer than the actual spring when it finally arrives. We’d expected it to be a whole season, like winter, instead of a handful of separate moments and single afternoons.”
– Barbara Holland, Endangered Pleasures