While everyone else is eagerly forgetting this past winter, our yard here in the latter part of April is still ruled by Big Mud, which leaks moisture through the basement walls and impedes even the thought of walking up to get the newspaper. As recently as Sunday we were still imprisoned by 3- and 4-foot snowbanks surrounding our driveway. For all intents and purposes, it’s been March here all month.

There has of course been a run of springlike days the last week or so. But it still goes to freezing or below at night, the cars still need to be washed, and we haven’t seen any signs of Persephone yet. The snow is going to last in these woods well into May. And there is going to be some bleak wind the next three or four weeks that will make you think twice about which part of the seasonal cycle you are actually inhabiting. The full-on sense that summer has arrived is not going to hit until June, possibly well into. About six weeks later in August there are going to be some chilly — if beautiful — evenings and a few orange leaves that indicate the great packing up is already underway. Summer is going to be short. As always.

By the calendar, this winter should have started showing signs of opening the cell door around a month ago. Vernal equinox spring arrives around March 21 every year because the angle and path of the Earth with respect to the sun take us into it with planetary precision. But March’s average temperature this year, according to Accuweather, was 26 degrees, 4 degrees below normal average. The March before that was even colder, 24 degrees. This month through April 17 was 39 degrees, 4 degrees below normal. March’s overall average temperature is normally 30, and the first two weeks of April averaged just 37. By Tuesday, April’s average temperature was still 3 degrees below normal.

But spring — that “memorable crisis which all things proclaim,” Thoreau calls it — in practice is less an astronomical date and more a state of mind. Toward the end of the annual confinement in winter’s box, you orient yourself to the snow depth, the height of the sun at midday and the outside thermometer by measuring in your mind when you’ll be able to take an ice-free walk.

I always expect Big Mud to ransack the driveway in about mid-March. There can be some backbiting April weather (cf. the blizzard of 1982 — during which I was luckily in Greece), and wet heavy snow often seems to fall on Earth Day, but in early Aprils past the driveway would be drained and by mid-month bright yellow forsythia blossoms would be flourishing. My inner clock up to now has been caught in a cycle of looking for it all to happen on this timeline.

But the last few vernal crises have happened later than this. My newsroom climate barometer Betty Adams corroborated that not only has winter been locking us down well into April, but it’s been starting later, too. Before the snowpocalypse descended, the earth was still bare in January, as if December had delayed a month. This week we’ve hardly cleared March. The whole winter has jogged on almost a month.

This gets exasperating until you realize the problem is not a jogging climate, but your own disposition to it. What we have here is failure to communicate with nature. Projecting your idea of spring onto March is what causes you the friction.

To escape the exasperation cycle, you have to get your mind right. Next winter, I’m betting, March will still be winter, like the last few years. Instead of reliving the same bad karma when Big Mud is yet again delayed to April, I’m calmly accepting that March is February and April is March. May will probably cram April and itself into 31 days, the black flies will mount their annual raid and then June will blossom.

Next winter, I’ll bet, Persephone will retreat back into her cottage a little later than you expect, and sashay back out a little later past the equinox than you wish she would. I’m expecting nothing more. For those of us grumbling and gambling away our time in these never-ending cycles, sometimes that nothing can be a real cool hand.

Dana Wilde lives in Troy. His writings on the curiosities of his backyard are collected in “The Other End of the Driveway,” and he is a contributor to “Pluto: New Horizons for a Lost Horizon” now available from North Atlantic Books. You can contact him at [email protected] Backyard Naturalist appears the second and fourth Thursdays each month.


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