I mark my year in seasons of my own definition. I have bird hunting season; that starts in the heat and greenery of mid-September and runs into the chill of November. Biking season is from the first blush of spring, perhaps April, and goes to September. After that I hang the bike and take the shotgun down and the dogs and I hunt. In my seasons March stands by itself as not a mere month, but as a season in and of itself.
Ski season comes with December, runs the gamut of January cold and February snow and lasts until the snow melts. That might be in March, might be in April. My seasons are often defined by vagaries in weather, never by strict ledger of calendar.
But March, March is a special season unto itself. March for me starts in late February after I’ve skied the Birkebeiner and it runs, the season of March, through the calendar month and sometimes into April. The season of March is also known in my book as Late Winter or Early Spring, depending on my mood. The dates of the season shift with the late winds of winter and the soft breezes of spring.
But it is always there, that season. It is always something I look forward to, all year long, that glorious time of the year when winter loosens its grip and spring comes on to take up the slack. It is a time of lengthening days, when you can feel in your bones the coming of spring. It has equal parts late winter and early spring. It is high sun that brings heat; I can sit in the lawn chair and soak up the warmth.
On days in this season I can ski at daybreak on crust snow that was softened by yesterday’s thaw, fast snow and the skis run wild and free. By midday I can ride a bike or paddle a kayak or run or rake the yard. I can feel chill in the shadow of dawn; revel in warmth by afternoon. All of that, all, in a single span.
Except this year. This year it all went to pieces.
I don’t like to complain, and I don’t like to whine; both are unflattering and serve no useful purpose. But this year my special season was a washout, and if you see in that statement complaint or whine, I’ll plead guilty.
March muscled its way in with a snow storm that was as close to epic as we’ve seen for a while. Snow was deep and heavy on the land, and that is how it should be. I figured we’d ski til mid month, easy, maybe later. I took my ancient wood frame snowshoes down for the first time in years and walked for hours. The snow was solid, heavy with moisture and it was good snow, the kind that would crust over enough to support weight and for however long it lasted it would be a playground.
It was compromised in scarce over a weeks time. Heavy thaw came, stayed, stayed longer and then snow was gone. Things changed too fast; there was no time to appreciate the slow ease of season change. One day snow; the next gone. One day 30’s the next 40’s, then 60, then 70. The heat rose and it never came back down. People walked in amazement, heavy coats and jackets left hanging. It was a time as we’ve not seen before.
A lot of people were happy about all this. I was not in their number. And it was more than just the loss of snow and skiing, even though I’d rather ski in spring than any other time. It had more to do than with the maple sugar season which did not happen up here, not in the way it should. It was more than the rush of birds on their move north, a move that pushed them through this area in a torrent, never stopping as they do, never lingering to wait for open water north. I like to spend much of this special season just watching them, the birds in full color and full life, heralding the spring with song and call.
It was this, yes, but more as well. For here is what was missing: There was no drama. The calendar month of March, and my season, call it Late Winter or Early Spring, is all about drama. It is about weather that can’t make up its mind, that runs hot and cold as if at a whim. It is about waking up with the temperature in the teens and having it hit 50 by 3 p.m., then drop like a rock that night.It is, this season, about a world that cannot make up its mind to be mild spring or remnant winter. One day you may have gentle rain; the next driving sleet. One day may bring southerly breezes and with them optimism and hope. The next morning may dawn to a biting northerly wind, mean spirited and nasty to the core.
In all of this is drama. and in that drama we are invigorated. We take energy from the change. We are recharged after the dark months of winter. This year the temperature rose and it stayed there, day after day after record-setting day. July is the most boring of months; warm in the morning, warm in the afternoon and warm in the evening. Next day, repeat. This March was the same; boring in its sameness. It did not snow; it did not, for most nights, freeze. It did not have drama.
This time of the year should have an edginess to it, an attitude. It should chill you in the morning and for that chill you can appreciate better the warmth of afternoon. It should bring snow driven by a biting wind, and in that you will more love the gentle breeze that will come, maybe the next day. You should see robins huddled for warmth in 3 inches of new snow, and in seeing them be uplifted when you hear their song the next morning. That is what we missed. That is the drama gone this year.That is our loss.
April draws near, the month an old poet labeled as the cruelest for its false optimism. Perhaps. Me, I’m still aching for the loss of the special season that has just passed, the time of drama that, this year, did not take the stage.
An assortment of outdoor products is available at Mel’s Trading Post, downtown Rhinelander; call (715) 362-5800.