Despite Two More Feet of Snow, Spring has Sprung

Although our land is still blanketed by 2 feet of snow and the lake remains frozen, spring has sprung this week.  How do I know?

One clue is the first of many flocks of migrating geese and one, lone sandhill crane (where is its mate?) announcing their annual return to The Great Land.  Welcome back!  I have missed you!    

A second is that twice a day, my husband and I stomp through softening snow to collect sap from the birch trees we tapped on April 20.  We drink this bracingly cold liquid as a vitamin rich spring tonic, and use it instead of water to make wine, beer, coffee, and anything else.  After ten days of clear flow, the sap turns milky, ending the tree’s gift to humans.  The rest belongs to the tree.  This change signals the imminent budding of the leaves.  So, one night, a few days later, I go to sleep in a black and white world and awaken to soft, technicolor green. 

Where the snow is thinnest or has melted and refrozen as ice, as at the base of a tree or building, I am always awed by the tenacity of a green bit of fern or dandelion or myosotis (forget-me-nots) already formed and ready for the heat and light of the sun.  Wild currants pop out of the snow already in bud.  Last year the haskaps flowered when their lower trunks were still encased in snow.  These plants, too, know when spring has arrived, and they are prepared to make the most of our short summer season.

I love such seasonal changes.  They teach me to take nothing for granted.  The flying bird will disappear, the sap run will end.  The green plants and deciduous trees will leaf out in May and then shrivel or flutter, yellow, brown, and red to the ground five months later.

It is my privilege to pay attention.  To notice.  To appreciate.   Nature does not need this appreciation.  It does not need me.  But perhaps that is exactly why I say thank you and endeavor to reciprocate for her many gifts of food, home remedies, shelter, and beauty.

Every day, I take a “walk about” to pay careful attention to the plants on our property and in the woods.   JX Mason (on this site) has described this sort of activity as a walking meditation. I had never thought of it that way, but I do now.  I am focused and calm.  Maybe my heart rate or blood pressure slows – I do not know.  But the daily practice is important to me.  My spirits rise and I feel a sense of expansion in myself. 

As the snow recedes, I hop out of bed thinking about the plants.  In the spring, I prune dead or damaged branches, and cull plants girdled under the snow by hungry voles and hares.  Later, in a sort of reciprocity, I watch for short, two week periods of optimal harvest conditions for tasty and nutritious leaves, berries, roots, and shoots that I am lucky to gather and enjoy.  Shall I eat this lambs quarter raw or cooked today, or in a pesto? Shall I dry or pressure can these other leaves for winter food?   Among the edible plants, our first spring salads are of dandelion leaves, fireweed shoots, and fiddleheads (ferns).  Next I harvest the flavorful young leaves of berry bushes, birch, and alder for tea and flavored vinegars – fresh leaves now and dried for later.  In early/mid May, I harvest bright green spruce and larch tips and snip them into salads, cakes and muffins to which they confer a delightful citrusy flavor.  Other plants share their beneficence later in the summer. 

Late in the summer, I gather seeds of edible, medicinal or beautiful plants that I wish to spread to new areas – the delicacy of columbine, the hardiness of daisies, the scent of iris and yarrow, and rake birch leaves onto tarps that I dump onto raised bed gardens and around fruit bushes and trees as a winter blanket.  Under the weight of the snow, the leaves break down and leaven the soil the next year. 

I do not have a TV or radio or alarm clock.  I have plants and animals that tell me what time of year it is and to get outside and DO SOMETHING joyful and meaningful and healthful.  So I do.   

I hope that you can and do, too.

by Laura Emerson