The Sweet Smell of March
I went off on a bit of a chase for spring on Friday, without really knowing that was what I was doing. I was to write about a woman who lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, outside of Portland, about three hours from here. I left early to be able to arrive at 11. The hills of snow around my house had begun to melt with the milder temperatures of that week. Two weeks ago, we had a dump of almost three feet land on us and then high winds and heavy rains, a kind of winter hurricane, some called it. A lot of people were out of power for a while. I felt very fortunate not to be among them. Clean-up crews and utility trucks continued working all along the way. As I made my way east, the sun rose strongly and I noticed roadside sugar houses were boiling, emitting big clouds of steam from their rooftop vents. I knew that if I stopped, got out of my car, and took a deep breath, I would smell that sweet smell of March.
By the time I reached Cape Elizabeth, there was no snow on the ground and when I got out of my car, I could hear, though I did not see, robins and the clear note of a cardinal. Just seeing the brown grasses underfoot was an inspiration. On my way home, I stopped at Hampton Beach. The ocean storms had also been strong and there is something about heavy surf that gets me going. I wasn’t disappointed. Waves rolled in one right after the other, thrashing the sand and sending heavy spray up into the wind. Fortunately it was near low tide as otherwise, I might not have had a place to walk on the sand, hard packed from the outgoing tide. The beach was almost empty, save for a few joggers and dogwalkers, which is how I like it, just me and the raging sea.
There was still a lot of snow reflecting off my headlights when I arrived home but I think there was less. The evening was so warm, I only built a small fire in the stove, just to take the dampness from the house, before going to bed. In the morning, I drove up to Walpole to see some old and dear friends who were gathering there. It was an unusual opportunity as they were from all points: San Francisco and London and Burlington and Amherst, Massachusetts. To celebrate, we dined on a lavish late lunch of rack of lamb, new potatoes, and fresh green beans. With family around the table and the bright pot of tulips, it felt like Easter. After lunch, we all put our coats on and went out for a walk — a walk that turned out to be more than three miles, up into the hillsides above the village, past interesting old houses and wonderful views of rolling hills. They were beginning to shed their snow, which gave the look of ragged cloth. Every turn of the road seemed to reveal a well-composed landscape painting, the angle shifting as we walked. We even passed by Ken Burns’ house, with his iconic (and somewhat incongruous) paean to Thomas Jefferson on the hilltop above his house. It looked almost like a mirage. Someone inquired about the “wires” that were running from tree to tree at the edge of the road and I explained that this is the “new” method for collecting sap. The tubing runs downhill into a central tank, more efficient, I am told, than the old style of buckets hanging on every tree but not so scenic, this is sure. The snowbanks along the roadside were melting so fast, if we stopped, we could hear them melt. Periodically, chunks of snow fell off the banks into the road. Water ran merrily down the pavement where we walked. There were puddles, a novelty in mid-winter. We heard more birds, unidentified but happy songs. It’s hard to gripe about global warming on such a day.
We ended our walk in the village, stopping at the irresistible Burdick’s and ordered, instead of hot chocolate, lemonade and iced lattes. It was that kind of day. We bunched together around a small table by the window. It was only March 6, we reminded each other. Those who would be returning to California and London were simply enjoying the sunshine, immune to the thrill of the high temperatures at this time of year. I was basking in all of it, the bare ground and the raging ocean of the day before and the friends, good food, beauty, and all around warmth so early in March. Surely there will be more storms but the sap is running and it was all a gift, such a respite, to get us through till spring really does arrive.