Dave Anderson's Forest Journal: Winter's over, or that's just more wishful thinking?

By DAVE ANDERSON April 13. 2018 7:40PM

Daffodil bulbs are trying to grow, but might see a little more snow before warmer temperatures head this way. (Dave Anderson)

April in northern New England is a fitful month, a season within a season. It's no longer winter and definitely not yet spring. It snowed overnight Tuesday. We're accustomed to it, but it's wearisome.

We're living in limbo. From north to south, residents are waiting for the sun and a little more warmth. T-shirts and shorts may need to wait. It's no wonder local television meteorologists are defensive or joking about needing a witness protection program. We know the reality that cold, damp weather is fair game in April. We've seen it snow in May. We may not like it, but it happens.

Apres ski

In the northern half of the state, winter is hanging tough: There's ice on all the lakes and snow in the woods. Brief hours of sunshine each week can't compete with a brisk northwest wind. One consolation is recent storms tracked south of us and east out to sea due to cold air locked in over New Hampshire.

The mountains appear well-poised for spring skiers, but one annual cruel irony is that it isn't lack of snow that closes ski areas; it is a lack of skier traffic. Neighbors living to our south see their lawns, and put up skis and snowboards in the garage and take down their fishing rods or golf clubs. The driving range grows more popular than spring skiing.

It's just human nature to push the calendar, and it's New Hampshire's nature to be contrary. Cranky Yankees. April's weather limbo is the wellspring of Yankee character.

Maple sugar season is over

We had a great year for maple sugaring. Perfect weather: an endless string of nights in the 20s; days in the 40s yielded a fabulous season. We doubled our family goal for syrup production, and we ran out of wood before we ran out of sap.

Last weekend, we pulled taps and began washing up the evaporator, pans, buckets, tools, even the floor. Everything is sticky sweet. It feels good to be done after seven consecutive weekends boiling sap.

Where the sun don't shine

When overnight snow reappears in the yard and fields, it melts away before 10 a.m. We grow impatient with relict dirty snow piles remaining at the edge of the driveway where the snowplow dutifully built up mountains.

We help that snow disappear by chopping at it and urging it to melt faster. "Go on now, git!" Snow is stubborn in patches of shade on the north side of shade-casting features: on the north side of a barn or dense hemlocks and where we piled it around the maple sap bulk tank for natural refrigeration back in January - back when snow was a welcome and exciting thing. Remember?

From beneath dirty snow and silt, a flotsam of autumn and winter artifacts emerges, blinking bright sunlight: a sodden cardboard jack-o'-lantern, a broken plastic snow shovel, bits of red velvet ribbon and pine cones wrapped with florist wire from a front door wreath. High winds ripped temporary tar paper off a shed roof and deposited it in a heap. Along frozen or muddy dirt roads, shiny new beer cans remain from long winter's nights plowing snow or the lack of a statewide bottle bill to encourage recycling?

Little Miss Sunshine

Here's the duality to our April landscape: Pastures, fields and lawns may appear as tidy as a Scottish sheep pasture. But there's also a more seedy and weather-worn character: dirty snow, roadside trash, sway-backed barns and more paint peeled from gray clapboards after another long winter. I can't help but think we look a little gaunt ourselves.

We could use some warm sunshine and the pastel red, pink, yellow and green tinge of hardwood buds bursting open. Hey, I'll be "Little Miss Sunshine" here: what follows includes tree pollen and allergies ... then ticks, black flies and mosquitoes.

Spring is a fitful business. It keeps the rural population low.

Naturalist Dave Anderson is Director of Education for The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests. Forest Journal runs every other week in the New Hampshire Sunday News. E-mail Anderson at danderson@forestsociety.org or through the Forest Society's Web site: forestsociety.org.

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