The Working Waterfront

Dreaming of a not-too-distant future

That active time when winter melts into spring

Courtney Naliboff
Posted 2015-03-16
Last Modified 2015-03-16

It’s early March as I write, and snow is still piled up to the crotch of the pin cherry tree. But you may be reading this in early April, and I hope you’ll permit me to do a little fantasizing about what it might be like, a month from now.

Spring is such a strange season in Maine. Snow one day, mud the next; brave snowdrops and crocuses appearing in March but maple leaves not unfurling ’til late May. My birthday is in April, and I can remember years when it felt like summer and years when it snowed. But such uncertainty makes each sign of spring precious, something we have to work for.

And so, readers in the future, I imagine you in down vests and T-shirts. The youngest and bravest among us might be wearing shorts with knee-high LaCrosse boots. The remaining snow is translucent and lingers only on the shady shoulder of a few roads here and there. Beyond it in the swampy culverts, skunk cabbage’s purple whorls have appeared, and above them pussy willows glint in the sun.

Day-length attenuated flowers are blooming. The witch hazel has peaked and is declining and the forsythia is just opening its long yellow buds. Raspberry canes, hated in late summer, are dear for a moment because they show pale green signs of life so quickly. Snowmelt fills brooks and makes rivulets over the mud and every pebble looks like a gemstone as it glistens.

Soon the salamanders will walk across the road, looking for vernal pools in which to mate. One magical evening in the not-too-distant future, driving home after an event as the sun is setting or opening the door to let the dog out, peepers will fill the night air. A bullfrog’s twanging bass note will punctuate the chorus. Robins are back, followed by the red winged blackbird, clinging to a cattail whose green shoot has yet to peek above water.

In my city years, spring was more decisive. Banks of daffodils, organized by color and type, bloomed on cue at the foot of ornamental trees chosen for their propensity to flower early. Winter was never so harsh and isolating as it is in Maine and spring never felt so hard-earned or so elusive.

In winter, and this winter most of all, we depend upon each other even as we hibernate. We are grateful and beholden to the army of plows that roll out in every storm, at every hour, to ensure safe passage to work and school.

Long, cold nights with the wood stove tamped down can lead to chimney fires, as we found out, and the prompt arrival of fire trucks, with firefighters willing to climb our icy roof in near-zero temperatures and clean the chimney cap, and the ambulance just in case, was an important reminder of our community, easy to lose track of in the daily trudge to work and the fight for parking spaces.

With roads covered in ice or slushy ruts, the YMCA fills with New Year’s resolved exercisers, logging miles on treadmills and exercise bikes. Calderwood Hall, our newly minted pizza restaurant and bar, opened infrequently and was mobbed each time with people desperate for human contact.

With the thaw comes the return of our independence. We can simply go for a walk—put the baby in a backpack or stroller, clip on the dog’s leash and go.

Garden beds are raked out in the daylight that lingers after work. Instead of the rush of late fall, chasing what little outdoor work time remains before everything freezes up and is buried, and enlisting the help of neighbors and friends for maximum efficiency, we can work a little here and a little there, hoeing in the decomposing seaweed and pulling out dead leaves in no particular hurry. Planting season doesn’t start ’til Memorial Day, and there’s all this glorious time and sun. Even fifty degrees feels marvelous if there’s no wind.

I imagine you, April readers, with work gloves and a windbreaker, not minding the mud and the raw, wet smack of early spring because it’s different than the bone-chilling cold, the disorientation of snow covering every landmark. As you clean out one garden bed, the pale tips of daffodils are revealed. Catmint and sedum are showing new growth under the dead stalks of last year’s perennials. Ferns are pushing up fuzzy nubs that will soon be fiddleheads for eating or letting grow.

I’ve smelled it once already, melting snow and dirt revealed, absorbing sun and emitting the volatile scent of life’s processes renewed. This winter can’t stop the woodcock from spiraling out of the sky. It can’t stop sap from running. The maple will let loose its red bottle-brush blooms and the rest of Maine will follow until finally, we are immersed in spring.

Courtney Naliboff is a music teacher and writer who lives on North Haven with her husband and daughter.