Thursday, January 31, 2013

Groundhog Day

Today, January 31, 2013, I went outside and located young chives, happily growing as if spring had already arrived. Nearby, were young sprouts of orpine and also, spearmint, all newly-emerged from the earth. Alongside a raised bed, dame’s rocket looked as green and healthy as when it went to sleep last fall. So what gives?

Well, it’s been a winter of contrasts. December came in cold and snowy, a real old-time Maine winter. But early January saw a warm spell and the first full-blown mud season of the year. Then for nearly two weeks, temperatures hovered at or somewhat below 0. And last night, a warm wind blew (blew is an understatement…gusts topped 60 mph), accompanied by a heavy rain.

The warm temperatures and rain melted all the snow. And the plants that I found had no doubt begun sprouting during the last cold snap, then they got covered with snow, an insulator, and now they sit out in the open, sans snow.

My lawn looks lush and green, a sad reminder that it could have used one more mowing before putting away the mower. For all intents and purposes, spring has arrived.

But wait, as they say on TV. The weather forecast calls for teens and single numbers tonight, so this taste of spring will be at best, short-lived.

No matter what, though, winter is at least and probably more than, half over. The old saying: “The provident farmer by Candlemas Day has half his wood and half his hay,” points to the second of February being the traditional mid-point of winter.

Candlemas Day, a church day, has fallen into disuse by the general populace, replaced by the more fashionable, Groundhog Day. But even Groundhog Day has its basis in truth. Groundhogs are not very sound hibernators and often wake up during warm spells in winter. And they do indeed leave their burrows and venture about.

I do like the optimism surrounding the groundhog’s predictions. If he sees his shadow, we are in for six more weeks of winter. Well, six weeks from February 2 puts us in the middle of March, quite early, in my opinion, for spring to arrive.

So take heart. Winter’s back is broken and from now on, despite sub-zero temperatures and lots of snow, it’s all downhill. And now please excuse me, since I must go out and pick some wintergreen leaves for tea, before the deep freeze sets in.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Cabin Fever

For me, sub-zero weather means enforced confinement. That is, it’s far too cold for outdoor activity, so I sit inside, write, play music on my pipes and feed the wood stove.

Friends tend not to drop by either, given the biting cold and also, the risk of flu. Every other person I speak with on the phone, it seems, either has or has had, the flu. So keeping away from sick people becomes a priority for me and this means days on end without the company of other humans.

Besides that, getting the flu could spell trouble for me in a big way. Living alone, I have no one to help in case of sickness. But my lifestyle is my choice and it didn’t just happen that way. We “pays our money and takes our chances,” so the old saying goes.

All this makes me wonder how the old-time trappers ever managed it. I’m not talking out west mountain man times either, but rather old-time Maine trappers. These people would take off for a month or more in the dead of winter, running their traplines and living in remote camps far away from civilization.

At least we today have radio and television, email and telephones. The old timers had nothing. But this much I know, from talking with older folks who were around during the early and mid-20th century; there wasn’t much time to sit around and get lonesome, since the trapper’s life was one of constant work. And when they weren’t preparing hides and doing camp chores, they were sleeping. It was work while the sun shone and sleep when it didn’t.

In looking over my photo collection, I came across a photo of the headstone of a Revolutionary War soldier who served during the winter at Valley Forge. Thinking about the privations and hardships those men endured makes me feel foolish about my own slight discomfort.

So when the door handle freezes on your car and you have to warm the key with a match, don’t cuss; just be glad you have a car. And even though heating fuel has become way overpriced, just be glad that you don’t have to burn half-green softwood, the way those old-time trappers did.

As far as getting lonely, email has taken up a lot of slack and single people, even those out in rural areas, can connect to the world at the pressing of a few keys.

In retrospect, things ain’t so bad after all.