I know something is different when I can go outside to fill my bird feeders and I don't have to put on boots, hat, scarf, mittens and coat to do so. Something is different when we've set our clocks ahead to Daylight Savings Time, and we enjoy our extra hour of light at suppertime. It's also different because so many folks get some form of spring break, and they have the elevated spirit that comes with anticipation of having a change in the routine. It may be slow in coming, but spring of some sort is definitely on its way.
Yesterday the sky was blue, the temperature promised to be in the 40s, and we had a tank of gas in the car. So we decided to go for a drive, in search of spring. The first thing we noticed was that there were patches of ice on the secondary roads where the tall trees kept pavement in the shade. Highways were open and clear for safe driving. But the back roads with their 4- and 5- foot-tall snowbanks, were still winter roads, with their low-traction threats on icy curves.
Storefront for Lake Champlain Chocolatier and Cafe on Church Street, Burlington, Vt.
(Photo — Randy Lewis)
Driving downhill on our way to Lake Champlain, I noticed the snowbanks shrinking. After 20 miles or so, it was hard to even call them snowbanks. After 30 miles, I noticed tree trunks rising from round openings in the snow cover. After 40 miles or so, wide patches of brown earth and grasses showed through the open meadowlands and fields. Huge blocks and chunks of ice comprised the surface of the Saranac River, with racing water moving through the winter ice architecture. And by the time we reached Cumberland Head and mighty Lake Champlain, the only snow visible was in errant piles at the end of parking lots and driveways.
The open waters of the mighty lake lapped noisily on the shore as we waited for the ferry. Seagulls squawked overhead in the big blue sky. The sun was so bright my sunglasses barely did their job; I was squinting even with them on! We've had a lot of gray days this winter. My eyes are out of practice.
Moving over water
As the ferry chugged across the lake, the details of the Adirondacks became more obvious the closer to Vermont we got. The panorama from the ship's deck was of the high peaks, covered with brilliant white snow, stretching for what looked to be a hundred miles. It was breath taking.
As we began our drive on Vermont soil, I noticed there was almost no snow at all. A few old dirty piles, perhaps, where the plow left its excess. But overall, it was like being somewhere else, somewhere a bit more kind to the winter-weary soul. And it was.
Moving among humanity
The drive into Burlington was quick, and we parked the car easily, making our way to Church Street and all the humanity that filled it. I saw two dark-eyed girls with purple hair and silver face jewelry walking by me as soon as I got to the Marketplace. A twenty-something young man played Bob Dylan on his guitar, singing his heart out, loudly and on key while he rested his butt on one of the big boulders on the square. I could smell the popcorn from the kettle-corn vendor, and I took off one of the three scarves I was wearing. I was out in the world, and the world suggested spring.
After a while more people came. The street was a party, a festival of good cheer. Lots of folks were out, sun pouring on their faces. At least 20 people had dogs with them, from pit bulls to poodles to boxers to bulldogs, all leading their owners on their leashes. Many young families were out, small toddlers darting here and there, tiny babies in Snugglis, larger babies in backpacks and occasional strollers.
Moving in and out of stores
Lines in the coffeeshops were long. Every single coffee shop was bursting at the doorways. I stood in line in one and just smelled the fresh brewed coffee in the air. The whole city was abuzz. Aisles in the bookstores were crowded with people just like me, hungry for the sight of new books on shelves and the culture that comes with enjoying them. One after another, each book I handled opened its pages for me, allowed me to hear the author or poet's words, as I offered a salute to my writing kin.
We stopped at a chocolate shop, also full to overflowing with customers and the candy-makers themselves, stirring huge vats of fudge right in front of our eyes. We visited a rug store, a home furnishing store, kitchen supply store, Macy's and City Market, Burlington's health-food grocery store and wine store. Every store we went to was full of customers. It didn't hurt that it was a beautiful sunny day - some student-types were even wearing shorts. At least they wore shoes, I thought. And they were all smiling, just like me.
Heading home again
The ferry ride home allowed us to watch a lovely sunset over the Adirondacks. By the time we were climbing the hills back to Keese Mills Road, it was dark. I could see and feel the snowbanks growing tall alongside the road, but at least the dark allowed me to hold on to that image of gentle Vermont in the springtime just a little longer.
Now, in preparation for nicer weather coming our way, let's honor the end of winter. We know it'll drop a lot more snow on us in fits and starts. It'll make us mad; it'll maybe scare us on slippery roads. But it will not win. Pay attention to the longer days, to the way the extra light makes us feel. The equinox is not far off . and small birds will begin to find their haunts in our neck of the woods as soon as some of this snow melts away. Keep your eyes and ears open for the small signs of what is to come. I bet it'll make you smile. I know that's what'll happen to me.
Randy Lewis is the author of "Actively Adirondack: Reflections of Mountain Life in the 21st Century," (Hungry Bear Publishing) Adirondack Center for Writing's People's Choice for Best Book 2007.