April was not as cruel this year as last (when by the 15th there were still 2 feet of snow in the Troy woods, if memory serves). This time winter almost kept us warm, comparatively, with no snow well into January and strange tangles of bare branches growing like botanical rubbish. February and March surprised us, too, mixing a little snow with showers of rain and one blast of summer. Then spring got back on a more usual course. April fool.
Since I can’t go south for the winter, I read Thoreau at night. He was both a lecturer and a list maker, which seem like contradictory dispositions in some ways — either you drone on about civil rights or you catalog sightings, there’s usually not much in between. But I think I see where he was coming from. His journals, which Frederick Garber, my first and best guide to Thoreau, posited might someday be regarded as his masterwork, are a copious mix of narratives, philosophic discursions and catalog observations. “The homeliest facts are always the most acceptable to an inquiring mind.”
Stumbling along 150 years after the master’s death on May 6, 1862, here’s part of my April catalog, following his lead in a sort of de-organized postmodern way. Most of these events took place two weeks or more earlier than usual:
April 13. Friday. A beneficent crab spider sunning on the basketball court.
April 15. Martin scouts evaluating the bird condo at Unity park.
April 16. The last scrap of snow disappeared from the yard this afternoon.
Also, the ice went out of Moosehead Lake (according to Pat Sherman of Greenbush and the Maine Department of Conservation).
April 18. Dandelions along the edge of the baseball diamond at the park (at least 10 days early). Chickadee two-note mating song.
April 20 (roughly) to 28. Shadbush blossoms. Forsythia brighter yellow and more thick-blossomed than usual this year. Pastel-rose-colored quince bushes. Dogwoods (white goddess). Purple rhododendrons. Peepers at night.
April 22. Violets and bluets flaring beside the garage. The swath of tiger lilies on the embankment by the mailbox is coming to green life. “The yellow willow catkins pushing out begin to give the trees a misty, downy appearance.” — Wait a minute — that was in Massachusetts in 1855.
April 25. The first little reddish-green furls of maple leaves along the driveway.
April 26. More martin scouts. Dandelions by the garage. A bald eagle circling so low over a house in Unity I could have seen the whites of its eyes if it had any. Starting to spit rain by night.
April 27. Six weeks back in the middle of March: dark, gray, wet, windy, cold day. 34 degrees at 10:30 p.m. The only way this could be worse is if it was snowing. Aprille with his shoures soote / the droghte of March hath perced to the roote. And me to the bone.
April 28, weekend. The first general bud-opening day, turning the Dixmont hills pastel green and yellow and fine shades of soft vermilion. And bathed euery veyne in swich licour / Of which vertu engendred is the flour.
April 29. 31 degrees at 10:45 p.m. The temperature is going DOWN.
April 30. The martins have moved in for the summer, poking their little faces out of the doorway circles in the birdhouse.
And all month long, Venus shone like a brilliant, fantastic jewel deep into the evening in the west.
“If the heavens of America appear infinitely higher, and the stars brighter, I trust that these facts are symbolical of the height to which the philosophy and poetry and religion of her inhabitants may one day soar.”
By the end of April, we stopped in the doorway, and went on into the sunlight on the deck for the first time this year, and drank coffee, and talked for an hour. The arid winter has pretty much departed. The summer thunder will be here soon.