The Dogs of April
This is the time of year when winter does not want to let go of its grip, like a mean dog. When the sun is out and the wind is still, it feels like May. But if you speak too soon the wind bites you two months back to the middle of March. And in these parts, February comes back out of the woods almost every night, with teeth.
The heat wave last month, while not unwelcome to us, was little more than an itch to the snowbanks at the end of our driveway. The next week 2 thick inches fell. And by this weekend dirty hills of heavy-crystal iciness were still lying there motionless like Cerberuses ready to growl and snarl at any thought of green grass that comes into our heads.
The poplar and ash trees are as naked now as they were in December. The red maple entered some kind of delirium in the 80-degree March heat and popped rust-colored buds, but have progressed no further.
The only irreversible progress toward wriggling out of winter’s jaws, if you ask me, is seen on the lakes. The ice went out of Unity Pond on March 23. This is only the fourth March ice-out in the last 42 years, according to records of the Friends of Lake Winnecook (aka Unity Pond) and the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands. It usually happens around mid-April. The earliest ice-out since 1970 was March 5, 1981. The latest was May 1, 1971, with April 30, 1972, a close second. The other two March ice-outs were in 2010 (the 18th) and 2006 (the 31st).
As of last week the ice had not yet gone out on Moosehead Lake. This might be a gauge of how deep winter’s teeth are still in, because Moosehead’s ice-out is usually in late April or May (in 1878 and 1972 the ice hung on until May 26), and the earliest ice-out was April 14, 1945.
Sebago Lake appears to go out on roughly the same schedule as Unity Pond, mid- to late April. But while Parks and Lands reports Sebago’s ice-out was March 19, they also note the lake did not freeze completely over this winter. The same for 2010, when ice-out was March 3.
I grew up on the weedy, boggy shore of Great Pond in Cape Elizabeth, a roughly mile-wide, fairly shallow body of water that always froze solid. My father’s impromptu records, if I remember right, usually had ice-out there around the beginning of April. We all had a mind of winter, or maybe it was just me, I can’t remember, but I don’t think there was any doubt in those bygone Decembers that people would skate there in January. But in recent decades, I’ve been told, Great Pond does not reliably freeze like that, though I stress I do not have this information firsthand.
I’ve been living in Waldo County for a long time now, or so it seems, especially by the end of every winter. Even though the global mean temperature has climbed about half a degree Celsius in the past 30 years, here in Troy winter does not go willingly, or gently, into spring and keeps biting, clawing and growling well into April. If it doesn’t snow again, my winter mind will be quite surprised. The rest of me will be happy to let the sleeping dog lie.
Dana Wilde’s collection of essays on the woods and environs of his house, “The Other End of the Driveway,” is available electronically and in paperback from http://booklocker.com/books/5473.html.