What does an early spring mean?

April 4, 2010

On Good Friday Bet and I strolled out the lane and stopped at the deck under the maple tree. The wood was dry and ready, so Bet swept off the winter’s dust and I hauled a set of Adirondack chairs out of storage in the barn. There we were, sitting in a pleasant breeze on a warm day – on the second of April!

I still had sap boiling in the sugar shack, but wild leeks were up in the woods. A large yellow and black butterfly had kept me company that morning as I gathered the last, cloudy sap for a batch of dark syrup. This time it was hard to keep the honey bees out of the evaporator. Spring has come suddenly this year.

Only a pessimist of the highest order can still cling to the old in-like-a-lamb, out-like-a-lion adages about March weather. Last year I kept my snow blower on the tractor well into May, but the expected final storm did not appear.

If he were around today, I wonder if Grandpa Charlie would still wear his winter woolies until the first of June? It would have been a warm day for him on Saturday in the 80 -degree weather.

Early last week Peter Smolker’s tractor started changing the colour of a field of stubble. Bob Chant’s loader and spreader were at work on the large flat behind his barn. Yesterday I transplanted walnut seedlings all morning. Conditions were perfect, so why not?

As I write this on Easter Sunday, I think back to the many times we climbed up to Spy Rock for the sunrise church service with Reverend Mary Simpson. We would spend an hour looking over village, lake and valley, then troop down the steep hill and over to the Presbyterian Church for a pancake breakfast.

The many Easter mornings blend in my memory into a single picture of the scene, but in that image the lake is still frozen solid. There’s a bit of snow on the ground under the bushes as well, though the rocks we stood or sat on were clear. This year there’s no snow, and hardly a cube of ice to be found in the whole Rideau.

Generally an Easter news story about a young man in the river entails heroic rescue or tragic loss. Yesterday the Ottawa Citizen mentioned a teen jumping into the river to retrieve an overthrown football, only to be joined for a swim by his bikini-clad girlfriend. Ah, the bathos of climate change!

If our Arctic ordeal is shrinking to a Pennsylvania-sized inconvenience, then what are the other implications of the decline of winter in Leeds County?

The maple syrup run this year seemed poor, but by Martin and Charlie’s calculations we surpassed last year’s 1 litre-per-tap standard over five weeks. Mind you in two weeks last year we had had enough of smoke, exposure and late nights, so we announced that the run had ended and pulled the taps. This year’s increased production might have as much to do with improved shelter and equipment as actual sap flow. Apparently the experience was rewarding enough for the crew to make plans for another session, though. They left everything clean and ready for an early start next February, but there’ll be some wood to get out and split before then.

Speaking of the sap crew, the guy who cut and split the most firewood, Mark Conboy, has joined the Queen’s Biology Station as assistant manager. With a Master’s in biology and solid mechanical skills, he should be a great addition to the QUBS staff at Chaffey’s Locks. Congratulations, Mark.

On Young’s Hill it has always seemed as if black walnuts could only grow on the south side in the shelter of the maple bush, but in the last couple of years they’ve popped up everywhere the squirrels have planted them. They don’t seem to need the protection of the woods any longer.

Another interesting change has to do with the sudden emergence of a market for hazel nuts as legislators have wisely chased the peanut from North American schools. The company that produces Nutella is begging Canadian farmers to plant vast acreage to help meet the demand. The bushes take only three years to mature, but the problem is the blight that wipes them out. Disease and insect pests may force other nut and fruit production northward as conditions deteriorate in the south because of climate change.

As it gets hotter, the risk of fire increases. A grass fire near Hamilton this week spread into a junk yard and burned through over a hundred wrecked cars as well as the field where it had started. As we worked in the sugar bush in the last couple of weeks we noticed how quickly things dried out, and also the amount of flammable material on the forest floor. Even though it’s only April we must take great care with vehicles and open flames in areas where fuel for a wildfire is available. Check the spark arrestors on your ATVs, lads. You don’t want to burn out your favourite trail.

Five years ago the prospect of a sugar maple on the shore of James Bay was science fiction. With a spring like this one, it doesn’t seem like such a dumb idea. The old philosophical question emerges: If you were an oak with a life expectancy of 400 years, where would you want to grow?

2 Responses to “What does an early spring mean?”

  1. Tom from Pennsylvania Says:

    I would offer that an early Spring in Leeds means a jump start to the local economy, what with cottagers suffering cabin fever heading out early to open up. However, a bit cooler would have been better for the heavy lifting.

  2. Tony Izatt Says:

    I didn’t see any great number of cottagers around for an early opening. I think perhaps they are creatures of habit. They open up on a particular weekend and are unable to adjust to take advantage of the nice weather. Same goes for the fish … they seemed to be few and far between. They obviously can;t adjust either.

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