March is Going Out Like a Lamb

– Posted in: Garden chores, Weather

After the miserable snowy weather in the middle of March the month has made a dramatic turn for the better in these last few days. It started on Sunday the 28th which dawned clear and sunny. The day followed in the steps of the morning and Monday kept up the same and today as well. These have been days when the daytime temperature manages to climb up into the 60s (Fahrenheit).

Spring is here. The snowdrops and crocuses are here and soon they will be gone. The fields are full of dead grass but soon they will be turning green again. The daffodils are coming up, but turn around and they’ll be blooming. Around here spring is the shortest season with the longest list of chores. But with weather like these last three days it is impossible to be discouraged by the long list of things-that-must-be-done. After months of snow it feels like a privilege to be outside working, soaking up the sun and fresh air.

The exquisite weather of the past three days defies description. What is exquisite? Beautiful? Superb? Wonderful? How do they describe a sky of pure unsullied blue with a gentle spring sun shining down and a soft breeze blowing? How do those words describe the sensation of being outside and listening to the birds warble and chitter in the trees after one has been inside for months of bone-chilling cold. Can words do justice to an early morning bike ride through the crisp air, passing along as the first rays of the morning sun touch the tops of the hills? Certainly this weather is beautiful, superb, wonderful, and exquisite all rolled together, but somehow the words still fail to grasp the fullness of the world in this weather. If someone were to say to me “Describe it” I would have to respond “Sorry, if you really want the full experience you have to live it.”

Spring, at this time, rests on the pinnacle of waiting. New life is just coming out and for those who stop to look and see, the world is brimming with potential. Of all times of the year for me this is the most optimistic. The winter is over and spring is just beginning. Walking under the apple trees in May when the blossoms are full and fragrant is more joyful, but now at the end of March and beginning of April the world is full of the yet-to-be. It is a waiting for good things to be unleashed.

It is at this time that the wise gardener prepares for the potential that is about to be unleashed. If I had all the time in the world to do what I ought to do, this would be exceptionally fun for me. As it is, every year is a mixture between enjoying the work and being half panicked and frantic to get everything done in time. I am not, I sometimes must remind myself, a full-time gardener. I can’t simply give up my writing to go frolic out among the grape vines. If I could frolic among the grape vines and dance in the apples trees all day I might not have any trouble getting all the pruning done in a timely manner. As it is I (usually) make myself do work–writing–before play. Okay, often I kind of cut writing short on the really good days but even so some of my pruning runs a little later in the year than it strictly ought.

So far I’ve gotten off to a good start, but that isn’t of much account. Good starts are easy. Good completions aren’t. On Sunday and Monday I completely cut back the ancient Concord grape vine(s) and transplanted them. This was originally one grape vine but the vine was touching the ground in many places and sprouted roots so I ended up transplanting five vines, and I could have done more, but five rooted cuttings was all I had space for. Today I cut back a lilac bush. I haven’t even yet begun to prune the apples trees and I still have all the other variety of grapevines that I need to do a bit of pruning on. As for the blueberry bushes . . . I want Teman to buy a cart/wagon attachment for his jeep so I can haul lots of free horse manure from down the street. This horse manure mixed with saw dust is the perfect mulch to go around the blueberry bushes. Right now, perhaps sadly, the blueberry bushes come about on the bottom of my pruning and tending list.

The plant world is showing the signs of spring, but so is the animal population around here. The wild turkeys in the area seem especially noisy in the springtime. During the day you can hear them gobbling and clucking from somewhere down in the area of the brook. Robins and the other birds make a pleasant racket during the morning. I think tree-lined roads are excellent for taking walks because in the cool of the morning you can walk along beneath the trees through the dappled pattern of shadows and listen to the bird calls coming from above.

The peepers are just beginning to come out from hibernation down by the brook as well. Peeper is the common name of a small frog, so named because of the high pitched “Peep-peep” they make. The frogs only call during the spring, and mostly during the cool of late evening. At the height of the season thousands upon thousands are calling all at once. To someone unfamiliar with the sound I suppose it could come across as strange and even frightening. With the night air full of the calling it is like the high pitched sound track for a horror movie. Someone from the city might wonder what kind of alien is out there in the darkened brush. For me peepers are a pleasant ambiance for the spring evening. After dark it is soothing to sit out on the porch in a nice comfortable chair and just relax, listening to the endless shrill calls.

On Sunday we had a unique and exciting wild animal appearance. Four turkey vultures (info links here, here, and here), which we’ve never seen in this area before, passed through and I was the first to spot them. I was outside working with the grape vines when I spotted a hawk flying low overhead. Watching it, I thought I could detect something grasped in its claws. I wondered if it was carrying some prey it had caught, and watching the hawk I became curious enough to go inside to fetch the binoculars so I could take a better look. Coming back outside with the binoculars I walked down onto the front steps and looked toward the hill opposite the house, trying to relocate the hawk. It was then my eyes lit upon a gigantic bird that was flying low opposite the house. I did a mental double take, something like: Whoa, another hawk. Whoa–that is way too big to be any hawk I’ve seen around here. Way too big. For the briefest stretch of time my mind struggled to grasp what I was seeing. The red tailed hawks around here are commonly seen circling high on the thermal updrafts but they are not exceptionally larger than a crow. Contrast this with a turkey vulture, which according to the bird book has a wing span of six feet! What I saw cruising through the air looked like a behemoth of a bird which on some non-reasoning level almost seemed like some wild prehistoric creature come back to darken the skies once more. On a more rational level my mind was still trying to make sense of what I was seeing. It wasn’t a hawk. It looked dark–a crow? Don’t be ridiculous. It was huge. A heron? Still not big enough, and besides it didn’t have the long legs of a heron. Bald eagle. It had to be a bald eagle. Around here? That didn’t make much sense either. I tried to look at the bird with the binoculars, but they were focused too far out and were no help at all.

I shouted to call other people out to take a look. None of the kids managed to offer any useful suggestions. Evan said they (more than one was now visible) looked a little scary. Other people said they had to be bald eagles. I was flummoxed. I was nearly certain the birds were not bald eagles. In passing I wondered if they were some kind of vulture, but having never seen a vulture in my life, it was a fleeting guess. When Dad finally came out (after much shouting on my part) he said they didn’t look like a bald eagle, and he thought they looked like they had a naked head like a vulture.

Later the bird book was dug up and it was determined for certain that the birds were turkey vultures.

It was amazing to watch the turkey vultures fly. They have huge wings that sweep through the air. Their dark shapes do have a menacing appearance as they glide through the air. The four birds flew past the house and sailed up over the hill, floating on the thermal updraft to the next valley. There were four of them. I don’t know if they were only passing through or checking out for some place to stay. I hope they stay. Since we’ve moved into this area over ten years ago geese and coyotes have both moved back into the area. Another species of wildlife returning would be nice. It would be cool to see the giant birds circling over head, their black wings stretched wide through the blue sky.

About the Author

At age fifteen, Rundy decided he wanted to write for his living. He is currently working on a novel, although it is not the novel he started at fifteen. When not working on the novel, he might be riding his bike, feeding his chickens, helping his neighbors, messing around with web design and computers in general, or writing on his blog, which discusses other topics in addition to gardening. USDA Hardiness Zone: 4 AHS Heat Zone: 3 Location: rural; Southern Tier of NY Geographic type: foothills of Appalachian Mountains Soil Type: acid clay Experience level: advanced beginner Particular interests: fruits, vegetables, major landscaping, chickens and other poultry

In the end, this may be the most important thing about frost: Frost slows us down. In spring, it tempers our eagerness. In fall, it brings closure and rest. In our gotta-go world–where every nanosecond seems to count–slowness can be a great gift. So rather than see Jack Frost as an adversary, you could choose to greet him as a friend.

~Philip Harnden in A Gardener’s Guide to Frost: Outwit the Weather and Extend the Spring and Fall Seasons

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