On Sunday last I pushed off on cross-country skis in the soft light at sunrise. The time change had come the night before; it was hazy dark at 7 a.m., but I had time for a quick ski before work. The day prior had been a warm one; we’d lost some snow. Still, I had little cause for concern. There was plenty of snow. We’d be able to ski for a longer than this Sunday, perhaps a week, maybe more.
It was a nice enough morning for a ski. I dawdled, stopped to take some photos, checked the snow, felt the mild air. I love to ski in March when the days are longer and the air warm. It is, for me, a special season, and I’d take it, a good day in March, over most of the rest of the winter. Last year I skied all of March, into April. This year we had very good snow. Was it too much to expect to ski for another week? Two? It did not seem unreasonable.
Yet there was a feeling of foreboding that morning when I checked the weather report. Sixty degrees? Seventy degrees? In March? Was that possible? It seemed improbable, and when I left the ski trail on Sunday, I figured I’d have more days on snow.
Three days later it hit 70 degrees, and all thought of skiing was gone. The warm days and nights took the snow as if by magic. See the snow today? Presto! It’s gone. Now you see it, now you don’t. The end of days had come for ski season.
I rode my bike under the high sun and warm breeze on Wednesday afternoon, on the old familiar roads that I’ll ride now all summer. I wore shorts, pushed the sleeves back on my long sleeve bike jersey. It felt like May.
When I got home Sally loaded her Stand Up Paddleboard in the truck and we drove to open water on the Wisconsin River. She pulled on her wetsuit and pushed the board to the water. The sun was warm but the water still cold. She was careful and paddled enough to get a feel for the board, to get back on the water for a while. And I thought, “What a strange week this has been.”
This is a week when I saw the first robin high in the maple tree singing his song of spring, the song of optimism and hope. In this week I saw blackbirds and geese and mallards. I saw wild swans, pure white against the blue water. I heard the wild call of sandhill crane, watched four of the big birds in the marsh as they called and danced. An ancient bird, the crane, and their type has seen millennia of springs. But so early, so early for all of them
This week I saw the snow turn dark and ugly and fade away. I saw snowbanks deep and solid melt to dirt. I saw snow melt fill the drains and gutters and run to the rivers. Everywhere I looked I saw spring come. Every day brought change. Every sun rose to a new day that was strikingly different from the one before.
Lakes have turned dark in the past week. Word comes of ice becoming thin, inches of ice fading under the onslaught of sun and melt. It seems as if open water will come early. Why not? All else has.
On Saturday night we changed the clocks; the rest of the week nature changed the season. Winter, so bold and blustery only two weeks ago, is gone. March did indeed come in like a lion. Now March limps toward the end, weak and weary and lamb-like. Winter, so real and formidable just a few weeks ago, is crippled. The groudhog was right it seems.
You have to wonder about it all. Say what you will, this is not a normal and natural turn of things. But then this winter has not been normal. We had virtually no cold weather. Yes, I know, there were days of below zero in January and February, but how many? I counted 11, and a few of those were on the edge with minus one or two, barely worth the count. Snow? We had some, but save for that whopper a few weeks ago, it wasn’t a snowy winter.
Now, spring comes in a rush, and one has to wonder, “What next?” What next in this strange time.
We’ll find out; we always do. That robin singing so bravely in big tree will see snow, you can count on it. The old wives tales says the first robin gets snowed on three times, but is it possible that that is all we’ll see? Color me as a skeptic; I think we’ll have more than three snowfalls yet to come.
I look at the long-term weather forecast as I write this; the next nine days show 60s, 70s. Night temperatures are what we’d expect in May. I wonder if there will a maple sap run of any consequence. I wonder if the lakes, low last fall, will shed their ice early this year and watch more surface water evaporate under warm days and spring breezes. I wonder of trees and plants pushing buds early and standing vulnerable to a frost. I wonder what the impact will be of all this, this early spring, these warm days. It makes me uneasy. I wonder if it will all come round, and if we’ll pay some price for a March so warm.
I know that for now, the skis are hung in storage. I know that the bike is ready to ride, and the camera gear set for time on the marsh when the migrating water birds come though. In some years they linger for weeks; this time around I think they’ll be gone in days. No matter where things go, we’ll find things to do outside, and we’ll make the best of it.
But I’m still wary. It’s only March. None of this seems as it should be.
An assortment of outdoor products is available at Mel’s Trading Post, downtown Rhinelander; call (715) 362-5800.