Violets and dandelions have taken over the world in my clearing in the Troy woods, after being gone for what seems like eons. Or have they? They make winter seem a long time ago, in a galaxy far away, or maybe it never existed at all.
Of course, in reality winter was still growling and snapping at our pantlegs just last month. May always tries to hypnotize us into thinking winter is a myth, so this year I wrote it down, as accurately to the phenomena as I could make it.
On April 2, for example, my notebook states: “Snowbanks top of driveway 3-4 feet.” If I remember right, this was remarkable because just two weeks before their summits were still at eye level for me, about 6 feet.
April 3: “Unbelievably raw & windy. … On the house side (of the brook), it is dirty white snow all the way into the woods.” But: “Counted nearly 50 robins on the ground and more squeaking in the trees and flipping back & forth to the soccer field at the park. Green shoots in the flower bed.”
April 4: “I’ve seen juncos hopping around on the ground that I thought were leaves. I saw oak leaves floating around in the air that I thought were birds.”
April 6: “Ice still covering even tiny ponds.”
April 12: “A gang of juncos have been patrolling under the bird feeder for four or five days.”
April 13: “Wet snow last night. Back to December. … A heron gorgeous floating like an assembly of joints over Route 139 in Benton.”
April 15. “Red maple buds. Ice out on Unity Pond two or three days ago.”
April 19. “Mounds of snow at top of driveway foot-high. A phoebe has flitted around all week looking for a spot to build or refurbish a nest.”
April 20: “A 12-15 foot long shelf of ice still over the south bank of the brook. Tiger lily shoots have popped up down the embankment from the road.”
April 21: “One of those April days where if you so much as dare to speak, a wind comes off a frozen peak, and you’re two months back in the middle of March.”
April 25: “Two rags of snow left under the poplar and under the young twin pines. Two swallows, white bellies, dancing & courting over the telephone wires at the Unity park. ‘The green ones have come from another world.’”
April 26: “One scrap of snow shaped like New Zealand about 6 feet long under the pines. … A tiny crab spider on the bench at the park. On Tuesday, driving on the highway between Waterville and Augusta, I saw an enormous kestrel perched on a dead tree in the wooded median.”
April 27: “Snow gone.”
April 29: “The phoebe bouncing around in the gray birch, still waiting for his mate. A purple martin perched on the roof peak of his condo at the Unity park. They have arrived, chattering loud. A 6-foot plate of ice still lines the south bank of the brook, west of the driveway.”
April 30: “Little clumps of bluets at the park. Forsythia, powerful yellow. Bebb Willow Catkins (actual foliage, not the name of a 19th century Southern novelist).”
May 2: “Dandelions at the park, right on schedule. Brook bank clear of ice.”
May 4: “Phoebe still waiting. Maple leaflings, crabapple buds. Woodpecker hammering. Two-note chickadee song.”
May 5: “A horde of wasps around the house all week probing for nest sites.”
May 7: “The world is turning every shade of green. Even the ash trees have buds. They’re the last to leaf in spring and the first to shed in fall. A spring azure butterfly darting around the driveway. Now we see the violets inherent in the system. The first low dandelions by the Shed, a week late. Villages of bluets. Wild strawberry blossoms at the park. A patch of little purple ground ivy.”
May 8: “Shadbush blossoms.”
May 10: “Rhododendrons deep purple by front doors (fire in the sky). Apple blossoms.”
May 13: “Green growing grass, gorgeous.”
May 14: “The phoebe mate has arrived; they’re darting around snatching bugs off blades of grass. Quince bushes, rose-colored, in a couple of yards on Route 9. … A tiny little 1 mm spider ran up his thread and into my sleeve.”
May 15: “A wood thrush hopping around under the greening willows, phoebes in the birch. Their nest up under the lip of the garage. A big fat robin under the ash trees.”
May 16: “Nature’s cruelest joke: Finally the world is warm but legions of black flies have hatched up out of the brook and taken over the driveway. My Belfast friends say they were infested early last week.”
May 17: “Starflower and Canada mayflower plants on the edge of the woods. Red osier dogwood showing flat-topped buds. ‘A spring-source rises under everything.’”
May 20: “A blue jay shoots past the bathroom window. When lilacs soon in the dooryard bloom:” Full-on spring!
Oh, winter, where is thy sting?
In February, summer seems like just a legend. In May when the lilacs open out it’s clear the legend is coming to life, and for a few months, winter is the ancient myth. So is it written.
Dana Wilde lives in Troy. His writings on the Maine woods are collected in “The Other End of the Driveway,” available from Booklocker.com. Backyard Naturalist appears the second and fourth Thursdays of the month. You can contact him at [email protected]