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Higgins: Unlocking The Land

After an unforgiving winter of deep freezes and deeper snow that bolted barn doors, car doors, side streets, streams, and even Lake Champlain shut, this is the season of unlocking - a time of softening ground and softening air, of swelling buds, rising allergies, and heaving roads.

In the North Country, spring can seem like a rumor, or an intricate mystery, like Stonehenge, the Loch Ness Monster, or how my cat can somehow miss catching a mouse in the kitchen even when it runs right into her. The truth is that a walloping snow storm is just about as likely as a 70-degree day right up through the end of April. In fact, as we all saw a few weeks ago, here it's entirely possible to experience both in the span of 24 hours.

The late-winter/early-spring calendar is nothing if not untrustworthy. And even with three or four weather apps on my phone that tell me more about the forecast than I could ever possibly want or need to know, this season remains stubbornly unpredictable. So the unlocking is best measured, I think, by subtle, insistent, incremental things. Like snow graying in a field in the middle of March, the first bright bloom of mud where car tires have worn ruts in the driveway, the way the doors in my house start fitting their frames again.

I notice changes in myself as well. It starts with Daylight Savings Time. Something powerful happens to me when I set the clocks ahead and experience that first evening of lingering light. I'm filled with hope and pleasure, as if all the shades in the house have been raised and a great lid has been pried from the roof of the sky. Who knows what can happen now that the stars have to wait their turn, now that the moon is merely a ghost until after dinner?

Soon the air fills with sweet sugarhouse smoke and the hillsides, in time, will glow rose and electric green. Redwing blackbirds and grackles return, their croaks and trills like the sound of windows stiffly ratcheting open. Warm breezes course through the house and the nights begin ringing with frogchant from every puddle and pool. 

I know I’m getting ahead of myself now, but I can even picture the a day when the first tiny, perfect oak leaves uncurl, when our resident bobolink rollicks across his hayfield in song, when Japanese beetles emerge to devour my birches, elms, and roses. The brown grass will grow lush and green and I’ll even love mowing the lawn, at least a few times - before I remember how sick I was of it last October, when I started to look forward to colder days and the end of yard work, when I consoled myself with the reminder that before long this great raucous, growing, surging, unlocked world would shut tight again.

Darren Higgins is a writer and editor living in Waterbury Center who writes about topics including fatherhood, history, literature, and the environment.
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