Down East 2013 ©
There are places where waking up to the sound of singing birds is little more than an aggravation. In Maine, in April, it’s a miracle.
The Maine response to spring is, like many other things here, subtle. We welcome spring, but it’s not a noisy or public celebration. We’re more like the diehard crowd standing at the marathon finish line, urging the last wobbling runner to stumble across. Our celebration takes place on a sunny step out of the wind, as we close our eyes and take a long breath. We made it through another winter.
I’ve often wondered how well the average human memory records weather. My own is woeful. I can tell you that the winter of 2007-2008 set snow records. The ice storm of 1998 is still vivid – 13 days with no power. But in between there are just flashes of snow shoveling and sketchy memories of winds that range from bracing to bitter. Perhaps my poor memory is an evolutionary solution, in line with the way women nearly forget the pain of childbirth.
So I can’t say 2008-2009 was the worst winter ever. Maybe I’m this relieved to see every April. But this seemed like a tough winter to me. I didn’t hear one person swear that winter was his or her favorite season. Everybody seemed to have hunkered down or flown away. Going out hardly seemed worth the aggravation. Even the snowmobilers, who have always struck me as one of the happiest groups around, didn’t seem very upbeat or very visible.
Of course, the fact that the world was in an economic meltdown was a real mood dampener. Thrift stopped being a quaint Maine virtue and became a mania where every penny saved was a moral victory. There seemed to be no such thing as a secure job. Energy conservation wasn’t a lifestyle choice, but a cold, grim necessity. And you can hardly call layering – 24/7 – an upbeat fashion trend.
But I think the economy as well as our collective mood is improving now. It’s easy to feel down in the dark of winter and easier to find hope on a warm, sunny day.
I admit I’m feeling a twinge of worry now, as if talking about winter in the past tense is bad luck. I know full well it could snow again. Just two years ago we were buried by the Patriots Day Storm. But it’s just a minor twinge. Even if more snow comes, it won’t stay long.
This is definitely spring, although it, too, is subtle. There’s no glorious riot of green. Our version is basically brown. The dead grass leftover from last fall reappears in a bloodless beige. The muddy ruts are a shade below chocolate. The sand lining the roads is nearly white, but turns to dark sludge when mixed with the meltwater tumbling along the ditches. The branches of the softwoods are dark against the sky.
Pretty much the only spots of color come from the litter. Every candy wrapper, soda can or advertising supplement that got away from the lazy or feckless reappears for some more responsible person to pick up. All the dog deposits made since December return to light in different stages of decomposition. As the snow melts, it’s easier to see the branches broken by its weight. Paint is peeling everywhere.
Mainers welcome spring with jokes, rakes, sunburns and an annual, statewide vow to get out more this year. We peel off our layers, oil our bikes, organize our tackle boxes and sharpen the paint scrapers. It may not look like much to people from away, but our subtle spring does its job. It promises better days ahead.
Roberta Scruggs has written about Maine environment, from its wetlands to the state agencies in charge of the environment, for more than two decades. Look for her latest report on coyote hunting in the June 2009 issue of Down East Magazine.