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Six weeks in March

SO now we climb March Hill, and after that it's all downgrade. The expression about March Hill has always made sense to down-Mainers, and on the first day of the month is probably quoted ten thousand times between Magalloway and Fundy. To Mainers, March is the hump of the year -- still uphill in the rigors of winter until the fateful ides, when all spirits are lifted by the vista of ``the heated term,'' which is the Mainer's all-too-brief summer. Appropriate that the Pine Tree State was admitted to the Union on the 15th of March, and that March is the state's statutory time for the annual town meetings -- from which and to which all community matters flow. March is the end and the beginning of the Maine year. The sun is climbing. Southerly windows are warm for the seedling flats of tomatoes. Mud season is here -- dreaded by housekeepers. Time to tap the maple trees. Time to ``start'' the firewood -- it has already been cut and piled in the woods, and in days when things were hauled on sleds, Mainers ``started'' their wood toward the house before losing snow. Time to begin (or think about beginning) housecleaning. Time to open the hives and see if the bees have enough honey to carry them through the doldrums of April and May. Time to set a hen. Time to ready for lambing. Time to look ahead.

The ski slopes now refer to granular snow, but March is the time of corn snow. Same thing. Warm days and freezing nights (sap weather) gave hard snow you could walk on until the sun was about 10 o'clock, and then it broke down into kernels and the footing was poor. Corn snow brings out the snow fleas. I've had any number of folks, over the years, discredit snow fleas. How would fleas hatch out of snow? You've got to see them in March to believe. The eggs were placed under the shaggy bark of the maples last fall, and a warm March sun brings them to hatch. Millions of little black insects suddenly appear on a corn snow-bank, making the snow as black as they are. They are insulated from the cold snow by the layer of moisture on which they cluster, and what happens after that I don't know. Snow fleas can get into a pail of maple sap so they need to be strained out.

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March is still too early to get excited about the trout brook, but under the snow and ice you can hear it getting ready in a tinkle of promise. The season opens April 1st. Here and there March ice will give way, and shoving a leg down into a brook is the coldest cold in the scale of colds. Three eternities pass before you get the boot off and can breathe.

Mud season doesn't amount to much nowadays, but before paved roads it brought a halt to all teaming. There was no more sledding and sleighing (two different activities), and runners couldn't shift to wheels until the quagmires dried. Remember how we had to scrape caked mud off the horses' shanks on that last day of sledding, the day before mud season began? Then there would be a snatch of spruce or hemlock boughs by the back door, and woe to anybody who didn't wipe and carelessly brought mud into the house. Better still, take off the boots. It was invigorating to step out in the morning and shove your feet into boots that had spent a brisk March night cooling for you. (``It's your own fault! Whyn't you use your head and bring 'em inside!'') There were newspapers spread by the kitchen stove for muddy boots.

Five weeks' sleighing in March meant a lingering winter. Other months run into five weeks, too, but the last week or two of March was supposed to bring poor sledding. (This year, 1985, March touches base in six weeks.) It wasn't often that Dobbin could jingle the family sleigh right into April. Yes, there were days in late March when farmers would break out a shovel and bring snow from a drift to cover a bare spot, so that last load of firewood could be skidded home. Runners dislike bare ground.

Beware the Ides of March! Quite otherwise in Maine. The middle of March is the end of the winter and the beginning of everything worth waiting for. Have you had a feed of smelts yet? The peak of March Hill -- not quite time yet to shed the longies, but you can begin to be about to get ready. On the geraniums, you can see the buds beginning to show.

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