Some years ago a friend newly arrived from China was nervous about winter in Maine. How deep would the snow get? And how much lower will the temperature go than it does in Shanghai, where it is famously too hot in summer and too cold in winter?

Before I could answer, she said, with classic Chinese cheerfulness, that someone had told her “spring in Maine is very beautiful.”

I did not know who could have said this to her, or why. Whether spring even exists in Maine has been debated at least since my ancestors arrived in Boothbay 250 years ago.

In human time, winter lasts approximately three to four decades each year, and then March and April set in. This winter might have lasted a fifth decade (though I seem to remember something about fall delaying its departure). February was again extended in order to let the biggest snowstorms of the year transpire. As in the recent last few years, March has barely reared its swollen head even though next week is April. It almost always snows in April. If you can remember that far back.

Certainly there is a sense of relief when the daytime temperature stops getting stalled below 30, whether that starts happening regularly in March or April. And when snowbanks start receding there’s a great sense of hope that a mythic moment known in legend as “summer” actually might exist. But relief and hope do not by themselves imply “spring,” let alone “beautiful.”

It’s true that in May dandelions pop up and authentically warm sunshine can appear. So my Chinese friend’s misinformant might have been referring to that week or two that includes lilac blossoms. But I’ve sat in Little League bleachers around Memorial Day shivering in my Shanghai-bought winter jacket and slapping black flies. After that, summer hits almost exactly June 1.


I’ve seen true spring — in Shanghai and Athens, and in England, where mild days and flowers upswell as early as February — and it definitely is not happening here anytime soon. March was created in Maine so people who don’t drink will know what a hangover is like. Or so it has been postulated by people who don’t go to church.

Here in Troy we are presently living inside a snowbank crater. Long into April, the driveway will remain a rumpled sheet of tundra ice by night and a mud trench by day. As the cruelest month groggily progresses and more rain and slush fall, it will revert to an arroyolike state we helplessly name “A River Runs Through It.” Spots of sludge on the slate floor in the kitchen. Piles of rotting bird seed on the deck. Black ice flaring on Route 9 most nights. Yesterday’s smooth pavement will have cracks tomorrow. Deciduous trees will remain skeletons well into May. Gray mist euphemistically called “fog” will lurk over melting snowfields like netherworld smokes. My Shanghai coat breaks the wind by day but I freeze in it at night. And by the way, the first day of spring was last week. I need a drink.

I did not say any of this to my friend. I just let her believe in spring. Like the rest of us.

Dana Wilde lives in Troy. You can contact him at [email protected] His recent book is “Summer to Fall: Notes and Numina from the Maine Woods” available from North Country Press. Backyard Naturalist appears the second and fourth Thursdays each month.

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