between-our-steps-02-28-18-doubleAs much as I appreciated the sunshine Monday morning, the deep blue sky spoke of July not February. And at night when I looked outside, there were just a few hazy stars. By morning as the temperature dropped to just below zero and the air cleared, Orion's belt shone bright, but the sky felt empty.

A clear night in February is supposed to be minus twenty, and the black sky should be full of stars with the milky way a track across it. We see the brilliant beauty of the night sky best when the air is crisp, clean, and cold.

We are not getting the old-fashioned winter that was predicted. Somebody else is. There is cold air out west. And they keep promising that the cold is coming back, but the jet stream disagrees and brings us warmth and humidity.

There are birds riding that warm air, coming north to where they will make a summer home. It's risky though, because only in the house are the insects waking up. The omnivores are safe as there are last fall's berries on the shrubs and seeds to be found. But the insect eaters better fight the push north.

And the robin hoping around the front yard? First thing in the morning, their feet will get cold. The ground is frozen solid. Later in the day, as the air warms up, the ground softens and a few worms wake up. The robin may get lucky.

Sap is flowing in the maple trees. Some people boiled maple for syrup last Sunday. It's the earliest harvest for producers I've talked to. Last year, however, the first boil was at the end of the month so those with medium to large operations had their taps in and equipment ready. Those who hoped for what used to be the normal mid-March harvest will have to adjust.

But it is not really spring yet. Although the air is warmer than normal, there still isn't much heat in the sunlight. And the days are still short. The sun's pattern doesn't shift: there isn't enough sunlight to sustain growth.

Under the trees, last year's leaves are brown, and there is a musty smell. But the insects that will break them down are still buried and asleep. The plants that will push up through them are still dormant. Real spring life requires light as well as warm air.

Our lawn is flat. The grass was pressed down by the layers of snow we got in December and early February. There is life in the roots, waiting, but the grass is a dull yellow brown with no life to it.

The fields look barren. The ground is hard at night, mucky in the afternoon, and the wind is taking moisture away. The land is drying out.

There was a great snow cover in December, but when the January thaw came, the water all ran off, swelling rivers. The bare ground froze. It did get covered again in early February, but when the next thaw came, the ground was hard and could not absorb anything. Again, the rivers swelled, roads flooded, ponds and lakes filled to over-flowing.

By the time plants are ready to grow, the land will be dry. We're going to need substantial rainfall to compensate for the water that ran away.

I did not see a lot of winter wheat go in, but this is the kind of season that is hard on that crop. Winter grains like snow cover. They get a good start in the fall, and then the plant likes to rest under a protective layer of snow. This year, each time the snow disappears and the temperatures fall below zero, the tender shoots risk freezing to death.

It is true that I do not mind these mornings that I get to sit and write rather than blow snow off the lane. But I miss slapping on skis and heading out my back door. I am glad the swamp is full, but I worry about the dry fields. And I wonder whether the deep cold of 2016 or the fluctuations of 2018 are going to be more common in the years to come.

With these worries, I am rather a spoil sport when people celebrate the sunshine and double-digit temperatures.

Cathy Hird lives on a farm near Walters Falls.


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