Spring’s slippery slope

Posted April 10, 2009, at 11:10 p.m.

Here in the north country it’s difficult to traipse through mud season without appreciating how skillfully Robert Frost, New England’s late great poet of the common man, nailed it when he wrote about fickle April.

“You know how it is with an April day,” Frost suggested in his classic poem “Two Tramps in Mud Time.” When the sun is out and the wind is still, “you’re one month on in the middle of May. But if you so much as dare to speak, a cloud comes over the sunlit arch, a wind comes off a frozen peak, and you’re two months back in the middle of March.”

Pray though we may for an April day dazzling enough to put us one month on in the middle of May, the frigid wind blowing straight down from Baffin Bay even as I write places us, instead, two months back in the middle of March. One tentative step ahead, two windblown steps back.

No matter. As always, there is optimism in Maine’s April air. This, after all, is not our first rodeo when it comes to surviving winter’s reluctant transition into spring. Having been there, done this many times before, we know that our tentative spring is about to become history, replaced by the real deal. The clues abound.

Advance scouts for the annual migration of Canada geese arrived earlier in the week to find precious little open water. But the local flock grows daily, the birds taking turns noisily honking their irritation at mankind’s occasional encroachment on their turf. Before long, gaggles of them will continue their northbound flight to their preferred summer grounds. Those that remain behind will regularly be cursed at for leaving their calling cards, reminders to the natives not to go strolling barefoot in the park.

When I look to the north, in the general direction of Nome, I see prime farmland that is half snow-covered, half bare. Although snowbanks remain impressively high on the windward side of many rural roads, they have disappeared altogether on long stretches of the leeward side to expose the beer cans and empty cigarette packages that litterbugs have left in their wake since November.

Crocuses and assorted cousins have pushed through the ground on the sunny side of the house and lawns have bared their souls to the heavens.

Soon, the annual Raking of the Gravel ritual will be at hand. Gouged turf and deep wheel ruts attesting to a battle of wills between snowplow operator and tenacious winter will be tamped in and reseeded and the grounds will be given a thorough spring cleaning in anticipation of the first mowing.

The Red Sox have played their home opener at Fenway Park, the Masters golf tournament is on television and the April 15 tax-paying deadline for hopeless procrastinators looms. Reliable signs of spring, all.

But nothing quite shouts “Springtime in Maine” like our world-famous potholes and frost heaves. From Arundel to Allagash these diabolical highway craters and unofficial speed bumps chew up tires and motor vehicle front-end alignments with a consistency that only an automobile repair shop guy can fully appreciate.

Meanwhile, the usual ice jams clog the usual state rivers and streams, producing the usual flooding of low-lying areas and the usual impressive efforts by public safety officials and volunteers to prevent loss of life and property. Across the state, basement sump pumps are kicking in to hold the rising waters at bay.

The National Weather Service at Caribou has issued its annual warning for gawkers checking out the awesome power of springtime’s snow-fueled freshets: Don’t go near the water. And for God’s sake resist the urge to climb upon the unstable massive ice chunks. “It’s not safe to play on ice, even if it’s on dry land,” weather service spokesman Mark Turner warned in the Thursday morning newspaper. “It doesn’t look like it’s moving, but it could toss you right into the river.”

You might think that adults who read this newspaper would not be out playing on the ice, unsupervised and heedless of the dangers. But, hey, it’s been a slow winter in the outback. We take our entertainment where we can find it, make do with what we have.

BDN columnist Kent Ward lives in Limestone. Readers may reach him by e-mail at olddawg@bangordailynews.net.

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