The north is hovering on the delicate verge of spring. It is barely imperceptible – except to the flocks of house finches, slate colored juncos, and mountain chickadees, and those of us yearning to thaw our bones on the sunny south-facing porch. Melting mud oozes from everywhere and rivulets of water replace the sublimation of snow and ice which dried the soil just last week. We met another of our neighbors at the beginning of the month who gains immeasurable pleasure finding fault with just about everyone and everything except the gluttonous heard of mule deer he feeds in his yard. Somehow they still find room to nibble the plants around our house, even though there is an unending supply of feed and salt-licks distributed throughout the neighborhood. He did tell us he appreciated our dog not running wild like a heathen. Small victories.
The paperwhite narcissus I planted at the beginning of January are in various stages of sprouting, blooming, and demise and I have yet to decide what to do with them. I forced most of them in water, and have heard varying accounts of the success associated with reblooming in future years. Gravity is acting on the weight of their lanky blooms and leaves, and they are beginning to escape the confines of their windowsills and various perches and dive headlong toward the floor.
On the precious few days when it’s warm enough to sit outside, the view of the mountains is spectacular. Red cliffs from a prehistoric geologic uprising face the west and the gentle slopes of the east-facing mountains rise toward the ridges. This time of year, the hills are still covered in a white, snowy icing, but ridges melt frequently, exposing grey and brown shades of dormant grass and sagebrush. Rocky mountain juniper, limber pine, and the occasional Douglas fir crouch in draws, sheltered from the wind. This time of year, the wind shows it’s many forms. Compared to elsewhere in the state, the wind is usually gentle, swirling the dust and leaves, turning the corner of the house and playfully lifting the pages of whatever book is au courant on my lap. Other days it barrels down the continent from the Arctic, picking up speed as it is shunted between mountains and valleys, screaming across the plains like the chariots of Mars – the God of War after which the month was aptly named – and colliding head-long with the north side of our house. Windows rattle, screens flap, sleet and snowflakes pelt the siding in the hurricane-force downdrafts preceding the storms. One such event relieved our weather vane of it’s moose decoration, which now lies buried under the snow, waiting to bloom with the rest of the dormant bulbs. We are beginning to read the wind like a well-seasoned weatherman. Even on afternoons when the radiant heat from the house heats the deck to a tolerable temperature, gusts of gale force winds will predict a cold front sending temperatures plunging below freezing and snow flurries by the next day. Mercifully, the wind often subsides as the snow arrives, allowing for a vertical descent to earth where it settles and blankest the landscape, as opposed to the horizontal version that drifts against front doors and cars, thwarting unsuspecting shovelers as they viciously attack it with ergonomically designed snow shovels.
Our weekends are often filled with snowshoeing in the mountains, followed by dinner at the local brewery on Saturday night. The trail we take leads to a particularly spectacular waterfall, and then forks and leads up in to the wilderness. The trail to the waterfall is often busy and one passes numerous groups and individuals in progressive stages of undress from their winter wardrobe. Dogs bound unrestrained to greet on comers and – should you also possess a dog – the customary dog greeting ensues with sniffing and stalking, turning as each dog tries to face it’s supposed foe head on, while still maintaining firm contact with the other dog’s rear which causes a particularly spectacular display of do-si-do, followed by a tentative wag if all goes well. Breathless greetings are exchanged between hikers on the trail switchbacks and as quickly as they arrived, they depart up or down the trail. After reaching the fork in the trail, we are often the only intrepid hikers. Tracks proceed for several hundred feet and then turn around – defeated by the snow. Our weekly trek into the woods covers roughly six miles round trip, the only consolation after which is a few good beers and dinner prepared by someone else.
The local brewery is located on Main Street downtown, and serves as the local gathering spot in the afternoons. Week-day specials entice a stop over on the way home from work to enjoy one of their many brews for half price, and – though we are new to the area – often see a familiar face or two. The restaurant in the back serves the expected American bar food – wings, onion rings, burgers, pizza – but with an upscale flare: blue cheese and pepper crusted bacon burgers, locally grown produce and locally harvested meat, home made pizza crusts. Not bad for a rural Western town. A series of certificates on the walls chronicle the change of hands of the bar through the years, but the decor appears to have remained the same. Branding irons and horse shoes hang on the walls next to a singular ladies boot from the early 1900’s. A mounted zebra head, faded from years of neglect to a white and dirty-blond striped beast, wears an Australian leather hat and several inches of dust. The walls are splattered where wallpaper can be seen between the decorations, and the high reaches of the ceiling are stained from decades of smoke. The bartenders are always friendly – though sometimes forgetful – but all offenses are forgiven when the beer is tasted. People watching is especially rewarding and we often choose a high, two person table against the wall with an optimum view of the room. Cowboy hats and felted vests belly up to the bar as men hunch over their drinks, young coeds in fashionable winter sporting wear commandeer tables, dragging them together as more friends come through the doors. Hello’s are said, chairs are borrowed from neighbors, drinks are ordered, and undulating waves of noise begin to climb in decibels as the evening wears on. Snatches of conversations run the gamut from calving rates to neighborhood gossip. You can catch up on the local high school sports team statistics, or learn all you wanted to know about the supposed affair being had by an acquaintance of someone at the next table. For people like us who verge on being professional eves droppers, the rewards are exceptional.
After getting off on what appeared to be a rocky first note with our neighbor, we decided to attempt to make amends. My husband is on the volunteer fire department with our neighbor’s son-in-law and they decided pie would be an acceptable peace offering. I baked a wonderfully good looking apple pie and we hauled ourselves up Mt. Everest behind our house to deliver. I almost died on the walk. Our neighbors have lived on the property for 15 years, but their house burned down a few years ago. They appear to be in the stages of rebuilding with an unfinished porch around the second level, but no stairs up to what may or may not be the front door. There were two doors on the ground level, neither of which had a door bell, and no answer to our knocking. After two consecutive days of attempted pie delivery, we gave up and posted a thank-you-for-plowing-the-road-during-snow-storms in the mail and resigned ourselves to apple pie and home made ice cream.
As the month draws to a close, the faintest sign of spring tickles the landscape. The emerging green is so imperceptible that we ask each other repeatedly if we are imagining the crested wheatgrass in the roadside ditches, or the flush of green on south-facing hill sides near the river. One evening as we left the house and drove along the sub-irrigated fields along the river to the highway, the ultimate sign of the impending shift from snow fields to hay fields appeared: Sandhill cranes. We pulled the car over and watched and listened as a mated pair descended toward the river – their guttural, whooping calls echoing off the hill sides and barns in the valley as their grey and red bodies gently floated to the valley floor. Spring is, indeed, on its way.
P.S. I realize this is for March – April and May have completely gotten away from me.