Tuesday, March 31, 2020

The Sunny Promise of March

I’m long past late on posting to the Bear Lake Journal, and you can thank (or blame) my buddy, Paul Tate for prodding me in this direction.

Looking out my window at the white expanse of the snow-covered lake one might think we are in the dead of winter, but the bright sun high in the sky and the pavement-hard snow will tell you we are well into spring. The young bare branches of the willows are turning red as the sleepy plants start to wake and the siskins and grossbeak add movement and song to the scene. The snow has blown or melted off the trees and the steep banks along the shore are starting to show dirt and grass. The driveway is a mix of bare gravel and treacherous ice pans that have already taken me to the ground when I baby-step across to feed the dogs.

On the mountains above the lake, the snow is deep and wind-carved but the rugged shoulders of rock are poking through, creating accent and depth. After four days of false breakup with temperatures in the high forties, we have turned cold again, so that the ski trail doesn’t soften until late afternoon and even then it’s a noisy grating crust with little give to it. Even the moose are crossing the lake without post-holing.

People who love the outdoors find March in Alaska a most special of times, especially when the skies are clear of clouds. By mid-March, mornings are light early and the sun is high enough in the sky to bathe most of our valley in the sunlight we missed during the heart of winter. By the end of March, the evenings are light until after nine, and we are out of energy long before we run out of light for work or play. For the next six months, we will be burning daylight. When I was young I could use all that daylight and have a second wind after supper, but now I mostly admire the beauty of it all.

I remember as a boy in Happy Valley that these crisp March days opened up the acres for my play because I could run across the clearing and through the forest on top of the snow peering into tree wells for treasures like fallen bracket fungus or lost toys. My sisters and I played hide seek this way hiding behind stone-like snow berms and dropping in the sheltering bowls around the trunks of trees. Instead of trapped on the shoveled paths and driveways, we could range wide on the crust gift of March mornings.

Yesterday I took advantage of the crusty snow to drop a dead tree and buck it up for firewood. This is excellent wood getting weather with hard dry snow for walking on in the woodlot and cool air for hot
work. While the snow on the lake is clean and white like a rumpled bedsheet, the snow in the woods is dusty and peppered with fallen spruce needles and littered with branches and bark blown off of trees during the harsh winds that scoured our lake most of the winter. I add my sawdust to the litter.

This is the time we look ahead to summer, and the signs are all around the place by the time we turn the calendar to April. The south-facing front porch smells of potting soil and seeds, the snow shovel has fallen over in place where the snow has melted around it, and nuggets of dog crap appear from under the snow to expose our winter negligence. We wonder aloud how many days of skiing are left in the ablating snow on the lake and anticipate the return of migrating waterfowl and the distant call of sandhill cranes passing overhead. But not yet for the mornings are still crisp, the wood stove is still warmer than the sun, and there is snow in the forecast.