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Two Signs of Spring in New England

Two Signs of Spring in New England
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Boston's Swan Boats
Photo/Art by JD Hale
Boston’s Swan Boats

There are, of course, a lot more than two signs of spring in New England about now. But these are my favorites…

After the various early signals of spring in New England — the Boston Flower Show, spotting a robin among snow patches on the lawn, and gathering pussy willows for the dining room table — there comes a truly major seasonal milestone. Ice-out. During the latter part of March and into April, the ice, now deserted of all human activity, has been turning dark gray, almost black. Not the shiny, crystal-clear black ice of late December and early January. This is the dull, rotting gray-black ice of April. Coves and shorelines become free of it, but the main area of the big lakes remain locked in this gray mass — interminably.

Then one late April or early May morning (later in northern sections, earlier in Connecticut, Rhode Island and southern Massachusetts), someone who has passed the lake earlier will announce, “The ice went out last night!”

The ice-out pool, in which bets are placed on the precise ice-out date, has a winner, and I make a special point of driving to the lake sometime that day to see for myself, firsthand. Like the marvel of autumn foliage, the first sight of open water in a big lake each spring is thrilling. The wind that helped bring about the ice’s disappearance is often whipping up whitecaps, and I stand there on the shore amazed — always amazed — that a landscape so entrenched for so many months could change so dramatically in a matter of a few hours. If the day is calm and ice-out coincides with or follows “opening day,” the lake will be full of boats and sections of the shore will be lined with fishermen. In any case, the annual ritual of personally looking at the ice-free lake is my own private signal to myself that another New England spring has finally arrived.

About five years ago, I was in Boston the day the ice went out of many of the big lakes in New Hampshire, and I thought my own spring would have to be delayed. But by fortunate circumstance, I was witness that year to a uniquely Boston seasonal milestone. It happened as I was walking along Commonwealth Avenue. Suddenly I was aware that some of the people on both sides of the avenue were beginning to clap and cheer and smile at one another. There, moving slowly in traffic down toward the Public Garden, was a huge trailer truck. On board were six swan boats. They’re stored all winter under cover and right around Patriot’s Day, April 19, they’re transported back to the Lagoon, the little lake in the Public garden, for another season. You have to be in the right place at the right time to see the swan boats on this little overland voyage, but if you are, its, well, almost as good as ice-out. Almost.

Welcome to the April, 2010 edition of Jud’s New England Journal, the rather curious monthly musings of Judson Hale, the Editor-in-Chief of Yankee Magazine, published since 1935 in Dublin, N.H.

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Two Signs of Spring

Updated Thursday, April 1st, 2010

Bring New England Home

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