Going Nature's Way
March is a month that tests our patience. When you live in northern Minnesota and the weather pundits tell you that March 1 is considered meteorological spring, but officially spring doesn’t begin until March 20, you can’t help but feel conflicted. Almost any weather condition can occur in March, since it is the transition from winter to spring. Temperatures as low as -32F and as high as 83F have been recorded in this month. Having lived over 60 years in this state, I have gradually learned to tame my spring fever — not an easy thing to do, but for the sake of mental wellbeing it is necessary.
On March 1, we had 11 hours and 11 minutes of daylight. That in itself is worth a celebration. Oh, how we miss that great solar star. For me it is the darkness of winter, not the cold, that I find unpleasant. I know many people are desperate for the snow to disappear and the green to reappear, but some things just can’t be rushed. In fact, it can be a serious problem if we have too much warm weather too soon in this new season.
Last year, if you remember, we had unseasonably warm temperatures in March and the trees responded as they would normally later in April, with flower buds and leaves opening. Inevitably, freezing temperatures returned and killed the new growth, leading to a devastating loss for apple trees. In Michigan, where they had similar weather, the entire cherry crop was wiped out. This was a significant economic blow to the fruit growers. One season lost is bad enough, but if it were to happen again this year, some farmers might not be able to survive the loss. So, I continue to hope that for most of the month we will see mild to moderate temperatures and even some more snow.
Typically, March is the third snowiest month of the year. How many times do you remember the state basketball tournaments, which are held later in the month, happening in the midst of a major snowstorm? In March of 2010 however, there was nary a snowflake over the entire state. This fact is hardwired in my brain because that is the year we walked around Lake Superior and we could have started a month earlier than we did because of the unusually warm, dry winter.
The snow that is on the ground now is not going to end our drought, because the ground beneath it is frozen. Much of this snow will either evaporate into the air or melt and run into ditches, streams, ponds, lakes and rivers. It isn’t until much later in the month, when the ground has been completely exposed, that it will be ready to absorb moisture, whether that comes as snow or rain. And once the snow cover is gone, the exposed dry grasses become tinder just waiting for a spark. Spring wildfires are a constant worry for those of us who live in the country, especially those of us surrounded by forest.
Even with all its volatility, March is a month that inexorably leads us into true spring and there are returning animals and birds to look for, and even some greenery poking up out of the ground by the end of the month. Raccoons and skunks, which don’t actually hibernate, but hide in burrows during the coldest months, will be on the move again. You will see their paw prints in the snow or muddy roads. For us, this will mean the nightly task of bringing in our bird feeders, because the raccoons have a razor sharp memory when it comes to finding food.
The avian harbingers of spring will be returning. Last year we saw our first robin on March 13, which was the earliest date ever in our 26 years here. Our neighbor, Connie, said she heard a robin calling last week. I hope it turned back around and headed south for a couple more weeks. We can expect to hear red-winged blackbirds as the marsh’s open up, then the Canada geese and sandhill cranes will follow. Many geese return to claim territories before all the ice is off their chosen ponds. By the last two weeks of March the floodgates open as the other waterfowl start to fill the air with their V’s and calls. Before long, people will see eastern bluebirds checking out nest boxes. Now is the time to go out and make sure they haven’t been a winter home for mice and that they are ready for the 2013 nesting season.
Next to our houses, especially on southern or western exposures, the tops of rhubarb and chives may be seen and some crocus could very well be in bloom by the end of the month.
In the maple forests, taps will hopefully be running with the sweet sap that will be boiled into golden syrup. Last year’s maple syrup production was also a bust because of the weather. Producers will be crossing their fingers this year, as will we, since our syrup supply is nearly gone.
With so much pent up anticipation in March, if ever there was a month to practice the philosophy of "live in the moment," this is it.