Not yet spring
Up in the still-white north where I live, we are watching seedlings spring up, impossibly green, on the window sill. We are sorting our seed packets, admiring the bright drawings and photographs of vegetables that come in colors we have forgotten over the long winter. In black and gray we draw out our own garden plans, as if we can’t really believe in kale green or tomato red. It’s hard enough to remember what a warming ray of sunshine feels like.
At dinner time, it’s down to the ice box to dig around for something green from last year’s garden — string beans, broccoli, a bag of curried cabbage. The best is finding a mix of early season vegetables, with baby summer squashes, wild and cultivated greens, tender herbs and tiny peas. It tastes like spring, and I think we’ve eaten the last one.
So we are waiting. My husband is designing improved hot frames in his sketch book, talking about using the stored window frames and getting early broccoli. My son interrupts, complaining that the whole world looks gray, then laces on his new red sneakers for a run. He comes home complaining some more, this time about wet feet and icy roads.
“When will it be spring?” he whines. Some early broccoli might help that boy.
This in-between time, not really winter but nowhere near spring, is long, and we have to remember to embrace both seasons.
So there won’t be daffodils for months. At least the onions are growing, in a Clementine box on the shelf near the back window.
Out front in the snow bank, our cross-country skis are standing sentry, ready for another ramble, so I consider it lucky that we still have snow cover. Every time I visit the neighbors for a ski through their woods, I marvel at the trail conditions and hope for one more snowfall.
We’re likely to get it. I can’t remember a March without a major storm. But spring snow melts quickly, and soon enough the brown earth of the garden will be showing through.
The days are getting longer, and the animals know it. The red squirrels started running around, the chickens started laying again. You can hear birdsong in the early morning.
There’s open water in the reservoir near us, but the fishing lakes, big and small, still have good, thick ice. Cars and trucks are still driving across the lake near the school. Farther north, my husband spends hours on the ice, sitting on an upended bucket with a little jigger rod in his cold hand. He came home from a midweek outing last week with four dinners and a sunburn.
“We need something green with this,” he says, setting the frying pan on the wood stove to pan fry some of his catch. I pull out some garlic from last year and some mushrooms from the market, then send the boy down to the freezer for something green. He shows up with a bag of green beans, with a little frost inside the bag. They’ll do.
On days that my husband and his buddy get lots of fish, some of it gets bagged for the freezer. When those early vegetables finally come in, we’ll pull out some yellow perch, the taste of winter, to eat with them.
Meanwhile, it’s flurrying outside and there’s a pan of maple sap slowly evaporating on the wood stove, our slow-syrup production. In March we tap just a few trees, and make just enough syrup for home, friends and family.
So far we’ve bottled about a pint. The sweet taste of just-finished syrup is another reminder that spring isn’t too far away. No matter what my son says.
Margaret Hartley is the Gazette’s Sunday and features editor. Greenpoint appears in the Gazette’s print edition Sundays on the Environment page.
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