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Melting, Mud, and Other Hints of Spring

March 21, 2015

The vernal equinox may mark the official start of spring, but it will be a while yet before spring gets to Maine. As I write, I’m watching snow float down outside my study window, and there are still big piles of snow everywhere – some of which won’t finish melting until late April.

front pile of snow driveway snow banks

Nevertheless, there are subtle hints that spring is coming, if you know what to look for.

Unlike in February, when the snow just kept getting deeper and deeper, March’s longer days and strong sun have brought melting, even on days when the temperatures don’t get above freezing.

muddy ruts Muddy ruts have begun to appear in my dirt road, precursors of the dreaded ‘mud season,’ when the road may become impassable for as long as two weeks.
Previously buried garden features, like this tarp-covered bench and garden sculpture, have re-emerged. garden features emerging
snow melt foundation2 Snow has begun to melt away from the foundations of the house,
And here and there under the trees, patches of bare ground have appeared. bare ground patch

Along the roadsides, broken mailboxes and street signs, casualties of the winter’s plowing, are appearing from under the snow banks.

broken mailbox broken street sign
maple syrup cropped But there are sweeter signs of spring’s approach. Around my neighborhood, taps have appeared on sugar maple trees. This is Maine Maple Sunday, when farmers open their sugar houses to visitors and ply them with various maple sugar treats.

And a close look reveals new growth on deciduous trees.

tree branch budsAll of these buoy me up with hope that spring really is coming.

I am linking this post to Donna’s Seasonal Celebrations at Gardens Eye View.

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27 Comments leave one →
  1. March 22, 2015 12:02 am

    Never having lived in a snowy clime, I find that pile of snow next to your front porch daunting but I’m glad you can see the improvement underway. I expect you have no fear of drought or water restrictions either so that counts as a major plus in my book. And a ready supply of maple sugar candy, a favorite treat dating back to my childhood, would also take the sting out of the slow arrival of spring. May the coming days be free of mud!

    • March 23, 2015 8:26 pm

      Kris, I actually see that pile of snow as much smaller than it was a couple of weeks ago! Droughts are rare here, but can happen during summers that are unusually hot and dry. I remember one summer in the early 90s when people’s wells started to run dry. For the most part, Maine’s glacially formed landscape is water rich, with lots of lakes, ponds, rivers, and big underground aquifers. The Poland Spring Water company, just a few miles down the road from my house, is actually engaged in water mining — extraction through artesian wells. People have started to worry, though, about whether the rate of water extraction is sustainable. I have few impermeable surfaces on my property (just the roof of the house), so most rain runoff gets absorbed by the ground and recharges the water table.
      There is no way that spring on a dirt road will be free of mud, especially this year when the frost is extra deep — but I’m hoping for slow thawing during the day with some refreezing over night.

  2. March 22, 2015 12:49 am

    funny, I was just talking about you today Jean. We were wondering how the weather going down the east coast was faring compared to the Canadian maritimes. I’m glad to see you’re doing well and have been spared the worst. Muddy season isn’t fun but at least it means you’re going in the right direction. I don’t know when we’ll see mud again here, the snow continues to pile up despite the fact that spring has sprung.

    • March 23, 2015 8:31 pm

      Marguerite, Since late February, my part of Maine has been in a sweet spot where the storms have mostly gone out to sea to our south, giving us just a little nuisance snow on the northern fringe of the storm, and then have crossed the Gulf of Maine to drop much more snow on downeast Maine and the maritimes.
      I thought of you and that very funny weather forecast video that you posted last year when I ran out on the first 40 degree day (+4 C) to take my car to the car wash. 🙂

  3. March 22, 2015 7:39 am

    I just spent four nights in Boston. It was pretty amazing to see the snow accumulation first hand right in the gardens of fairly urban Chestnut Hill. Down here in PA we had another snow storm and five more inches with many cold nights in the next week. Will it never end?

    • March 24, 2015 9:39 pm

      Carolyn, I can imagine. The snowfall record that was broken in Boston this winter was from 1995-96, a year when I was in residence as a visiting scholar at the Wellesley Center for Research on Women and was doing research in Boston. Because the snow fell more evenly over the winter that year, it wasn’t as disruptive as this year’s extraordinary February storms. I think you’ve had much more snow in March than we have had up here. Although it’s cold, we’ve only had a little nuisance snow and most days have been sunny with those deep blue skies characteristic that we get around the equinox.

  4. March 22, 2015 9:19 am

    The scenes from your garden really help us all ‘see’ the winter that has hit New England so hard this year, Jean! Preparing for ‘mud season’ will definitely be a challenge this year. I would love to see Maine Maple Sunday one day. Tapping Maple trees is something that we never see here in the Midwest. Our snow has finally melted, but Monday more snow is on the way. Hoping you will have a s-l-o-w melt… and no more snow! Think sunny Spring thoughts, Jean! It’s on the way! ♡

    • March 24, 2015 9:45 pm

      Dawn, Mud season is going to be a doozy this year, since the frost is so deep. I’m hoping for a slow thaw until we get to the point that my road is impassable (when the ruts are deeper than 1′); then I’m hoping for a warm, quick finish to the thaw.
      Today my contractor came by to check out the status of the melting because he wants to get in and finish up some outside work on my addition as soon as the weather warms up and the snow melts. He was chagrined by the size of that snow pile by my front porch (exactly where he needs to work) and is planning to come back and throw a black tarp over it in hopes that the black will absorb the heat of the sun and speed up the melting.

  5. March 22, 2015 10:10 am

    It appears we are experiencing the same spring’s arrival. I had to chuckle as I am seeing the same subtle signs here. Even the sugar maples being tapped. We have a Maple Festival just a bit south of here. And the critters are showing springs arrival…but it is 2 weeks late here delayed by the lingering frigid temps and snow. Oh well it will come in its own good time. Thanks Jean for joining the Seasonal Celebration. I appreciate the support.

    • March 24, 2015 9:47 pm

      Donna, Ah, yes, the critters. For the past couple of weeks, the chipmunks have been very busy scurrying around on top of the snow. This week, for the first time since fall, I heard mice in the house — a sign of spring I would happily do without!

  6. March 22, 2015 10:49 am

    Though I love my SC home, I also miss the northeast at times and this certainly brings back good memories. I used to get so excited to see the snow thawing and the swelling red buds of the maples. I also remember the mud and mess but those are sure signs of spring and the promise of flowers. I also enjoyed my Dad tapping the maples and then we’d spend hours and hours around a fire watching the sap boil down to a syrup. Thanks for the memories!

    • March 24, 2015 9:48 pm

      Kathy, I consider maple syrup one of the greatest gifts of this climate. 🙂

  7. March 22, 2015 5:09 pm

    I feel as if I’m reading a story book – actually tapping maple syrup.

    It’s turned autumn fresh and Plectranthus flowers here

    • March 24, 2015 9:51 pm

      Diana, The tapping of maple trees for sap that is then boiled down into maple syrup is truly magical, and my favorite local food. I buy several pints of syrup at my favorite fall agricultural fair and then dole it out to myself one tablespoon a day on my hot breakfast cereal through the winter.

  8. March 23, 2015 9:47 am

    I am reading your post with envy, I miss so much snow! although I am aware that this year with so much snow, you are in need of sprint time. Today is raining a lot, which is great for gardens and I am with a smile.

    • March 24, 2015 10:00 pm

      Lula, I am also a snow-lover — although I’m ready for it to melt now and give way to spring.

  9. March 23, 2015 1:53 pm

    The sap hasn’t started running here yet in Quebec. Maybe it will begin this week — temperatures are predicted to rise. But br-r-r-, it was COLD this morning: -18C (which I think is about 0 F) on the thermometer on the sunny side of the house!

    • March 24, 2015 10:18 pm

      Pat, The sap barely started running here in time for Maine Maple Sunday. Our temperatures have only been a few degrees warmer than yours, and many days have not gotten above freezing. We’ve been having alternating periods of temperatures near normal and then back into the cold. I’m taking comfort in the fact that the cold days now usually have temps about freezing. Slowly things are warming up.

  10. March 24, 2015 8:54 am

    Jean, it’s like a unwrapping a gift in slow motion. Thanks for the reminders that very often seasons don’t explode — they’re much more subtle and gentle.

    • March 24, 2015 10:19 pm

      Kevin, Usually when spring finally gets here, it does explode and everything happens all of a sudden — “June is busting out all over” is a song about the arrival of spring in Maine. But, really, I’m hoping to see some action and some blooms before June!

  11. March 26, 2015 10:11 am

    Hello Jean, such huge drifts and piles of snow,you could loose a whole bus under some of those. It couldn’t be any different to how it is here. Snow (the very little we had) is a long distant memory, now the leaf blowers are out, patios are being power-washed and barbecues are being uncovered, I just hope it’s not being too optimistic!

    • March 28, 2015 10:14 pm

      Sunil, We do snow big time here in northern New England. Skiing and snowmobiling are important winter tourist industries, and it’s pretty normal to have snow on the ground until about mid-April. No power-washers and barbecues here for a while yet; the normal date for planting out tender annuals is the end of May.

  12. March 27, 2015 4:45 pm

    Daunting…

    • March 28, 2015 10:15 pm

      LOL, Jack, the daunting part was having to shovel the snow into those big piles. Watching it melt (albeit slowly) is the easy part.

  13. debsgarden permalink
    March 28, 2015 5:25 pm

    Seeing those piles of snow, I can imagine how one could grow tired of it all. “Mud season” sounds daunting, but it must be great for you to see those first signs of spring, even as it is to me with my relatively short winter. I am still amazed at how maple sugar syrup just flows out of trees!

    • March 28, 2015 10:22 pm

      Deb, Mud season is always an adventure. The ground thaws from the top down, and as long as it is frozen on the bottom, the moisture can’t drain off. The result is mud that keeps getting deeper and deeper until the final thawing occurs. The frost is extra-deep this year because of the below-normal temperatures. Once the mud ruts in my dirt road get to be more than a foot deep, I’ll leave my car on the paved road at the bottom and slog in and out on foot.
      Maple syrup is a major agricultural product in all of northern New England, upstate New York, and Quebec. The sap that is collected from the trees is concentrated by boiling to produce maple syrup; it takes between 20 and 50 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup — which is why 100% maple syrup is pretty expensive.

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  1. Seasonal Celebrations Revealed-March 2015 | Gardens Eye View

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