By Mitch Mode
A guy from Land O’ Lakes walks in, says, “It was snowing like crazy in Conover! Really coming down. I could barely see the road”. Shakes his head at the goofiness of it all.
He’s wearing a down jacket and a knit hat. I ask him how his bike riding is coming along and he says it was going pretty good, then nods his head to the window and the outdoors, adds, “Until this junk came along”. “Junk” is not the word he uses but you get the idea.
Someone overhears us, says the forecast he heard called for a “wintery mix” and we ponder that for a minute or two, the gist of it all being how wintery weather can happen in the middle of May. Then someone chimes in about frost in June and hey, he remembers a July fourth when it was so cold that… well, you get the drift of it all.
That was Tuesday morning this week. After a stretch of warm weather had everyone raving about how nice it was that spring was finally here things went off the rails weather-wise. Now, on Tuesday, there was talk of snow and the wind was biting cold and the temperature was dropping like the air pressure in those footballs that the New England Patriots use.
It was, in short, a nice November day what with weather more conducive to duck hunting than fishing and talk of football in the air. Nice day for November 12; not for May 12.
The night before in the darkness of evening I walked past the living room window and did a double take; the apple tree in the side yard looked to be white with snow. There’d been talk in the weather forecast of snow so it was on my mind but still. I stopped and looked again and the tree was heavy with white but blossoms not snow.
All the trees seemed in blossom that day; rosy pink of crabapples and rich white of apple trees, all over town, everywhere you looked, trees full and heavy with the promise of both spring and autumn for what else says spring as much as white flower; what else leads to September more than fresh apples on the tree that comes from spring bloom.
I stood at the window and looked at the apple tree; ghost-white in the darkness.
There is another apple tree in the back, into its third summer. Sally planted it there as a little sprig of a tree and now it held tight blossoms, seemingly more delicate than on the larger tree. I could not see it in the darkness of Monday night, could only find it in memory’s eye.
Then Tuesday; chill and cold and talk of snow.
Afternoon Tuesday and a friend stopped in, announced, “Twenty-seven for the low tonight!” More talk of weather and cold. He said the blueberries were in full bloom; I worried for the apple trees. I remembered, what? Two years ago? A late frost with trees in their full; hard frost and the blossoms froze. Hard cold; hard facts; tough times come. That fall there were precious few apples.
I walked home after work hunched against the cold with my hands pushed deep in the pockets. In a few weeks we’ll be on a canoe trip in the Boundary Waters and I thought to myself about those who went this week. I wondered how they were faring in spitting snow and falling temperatures and hard north winds. I wondered what we’d do if we had weather as this. Early season paddlers are like early bird migrants; roll the dice and hope for the best.
I went to bed that night concerned that this would be the night that spring died. Would it be the night that the hard frost dropped like a hammer, the night the spark of spring faded to ash, the night that September apples died before they turned from bloom to bud? Would this be the night that, come late summer, we’d recall: “Remember that night back in May when we had that hard freeze and it killed all the apples?”
The dogs woke me early. We went down stairs, Thor and Riika full bore, galloping like broncos. Fenway on the stairs is light and quick and at 17 pounds, quiet.
Thor and Fenway head to the back door; Riika goes to the kitchen to see if she can find any cat food. Riika relishes cat food and should the cat leave any in reach Riika will be on it.
I open the door and feel the cold air. I look for frost in the grass. It’s cold but there is no frost. I step outside and take a few tentative steps; cold, yes, but no sign of hard frost. Sally’s little apple tree catches early sun and seems to glow with light and vitality.
Back indoors I check the temperature; 29, cold, but no sign of killer frost. I walk to the living room; the apple tree in the side yard is white with blossom. And I breathe easier for as chilly as it is it looks as if we’ve dodged the killing frost that would have done so much damage to the vulnerable blossoms.
In the afternoon I ride the bike past green woodlands and white trilliums and cherry trees in blossom. The sun brings warmth and comfort and spring is in the air once again. The cold of the day before is gone. The fears of killing frost burned off like fog under a morning sun. Optimism, the best emotion for spring, is in the air.
An assortment of outdoor products is available at Mel’s Trading Post downtown Rhinelander. Call 715-362-5800. To comment on this story, visit starjournalnow.com.