March Assessments


By James McGuire

Contributing columnist

Hooray! March is here—the year’s tempestuous transitional month when winter ends and spring begins. At least in theory, according to what the official seasonal checkpoints on our calendars and almanacs claim.

However, this year’s arrival of March was certainly not much in keeping with the old “in like a lion, out like a lamb” proverb.

Of course, as is the case with many such seasonal and weather-related axioms, their truth is often more general than specific.

Most years, the first days of March are blustery—cold and windy. Snow isn’t unusual. You need a heavy coat. But you don’t need a degree in weather science to know it’s still winter out there.

By the month’s end, a new, more benign vernal look and feel has enveloped the land. It’s still really breezy, good kite-flying weather. But warmer. A light jacket is sufficient. The air is mild. Too, there are spreading hints of green, and early flowers in bloom. Birds are tuning up, singing loud, from dawn until dusk. Everywhere you go you see, smell, and hear countless unmistakable intimations of spring!

At least that’s the standard drill, the familiar show we annually anticipate. We imagine we’ll be getting March’s typical predicted scenario—the month’s folkloric “lion and lamb” of our expectations.

But it’s always prudent to keep in mind that scheduling and mental pigeonholing is, at best, a general timetable and agenda—not a precise, hard-and-fast guarantee.

“Spring will get here in its own good time,” my mother used to say.

She might make this comment on a somber March morning, while staring out the kitchen window at a thick flurry of snowflakes whirling furiously past the glass. Likely as not, her assertion would be followed with a wistful sigh.

Or maybe she’d be in the side-yard, wrapped in a heavy coat, lured outside by the bright gleam of midmorning sunshine. Walking along, hopeful, scrutinizing the dark earth of her most weather-protected flower beds along the south-facing foundation wall, looking for the first hint of an emerging jonquil or crocus, soon to show its soul-cheering bloom.

Mom longed for spring—a desire and hunger that began soon after the start of the new year. But she never looked for that beloved first flower until March began.

My father’s March assessments and routines mostly involved fishing.

A day or two after flipping the page of the big Currier and Ives wall calendar to the third month, Dad would head into the basement and collect his fishing gear. Then he’d tell me to bundle up. “Let’s go dig some worms somewhere,” he’d say, giving me a wink and grin. “Then we’ll see if the suckers are biting in the riffles.”

If the suckers were indeed biting, I knew it was a sure bet the bullheads would be, too. Since I much preferred catching—and eating!—bullheads, I usually tried to sway him into changing targets.

But my persuasion attempts were only halfhearted, lacking both enthusiasm and conviction. Truth be told, when you’ve not been fishing for many long months, quibbling over the trip’s intended prey was irrelevant. Getting out—going and doing—was what mattered!

Besides, Dad always needed that one early-March sucker-fishing fix—it was apparently something he had to get out of his system. And suckers are plenty of fun to catch after a fishless winter.

In fact, having just endured the bulk of this current fishless winter, as soon as the river channel in the riffle in front of the cottage clears and recedes to its usual level, I’m tempted to see if the Stillwater’s suckers are biting. If not, I’ll move my piscatorial operations a few yards downstream and have a go at bullheads. I know they’ll cooperate!

Regardless of my fishing luck, let me just say how grateful I am to be able to even contemplate such an endeavor this early. And along that line, I’ve also gotta say—this year’s March intro was spectacular! Sunny, calm, unseasonably warm. Weather-wise, a day straight out of mid-May!

Mild weather that continues still, and is already working its magic.

My mother would definitely be thrilled to her core by all my daffodils. A pure eye-catching assemblage, in gobs and clumps and clusters, blooms spackled all over the yard. Masses of yellows and whites, pale creams, and chalky apricots. Many in places where I’ve planted them over the years, but others in locations which never received a single bulb by my hand. Squirrels?

I’m trying to hold off for a few more days on a long trip to one of my favorite wildflower woods a fair distance away. I’m pretty sure I’ll find ranks of purple-pink skunk cabbage spathes up in the place’s one boggy corner. But the reason I’m waiting a while before going is that I want to make sure of the hepaticas.

This particular woods has the most hepaticas I’ve ever found in any single location—hundreds if not thousands. Hepaticas in patches and swathes, bundles and bunches.

Hepatica enclaves scattered throughout many acres of rugged, hill-country woods. Wild, dainty treasures, in subtle pastels spanning every hue imaginable. A treasure trove of blooms.

I’ve never seen their like, anywhere, and I don’t want to be disappointed.

The opportunity to again witness these spectacular hepaticas are my self-administered treat—and one of the ways I conduct my own sort of March assessment.

I’m not sure my parents would quite know what to make of this year’s March. I’m admittedly puzzled.

While I’ve wholeheartedly welcomed, thoroughly enjoyed, and absolutely appreciated these initial days—I’m also a little freaked out. Weather so nice so early feels odd—weird enough that I can’t help but wonder if we’re going to be pranked somehow later on.

March is not only fickle, it’s also moody, like a cat that sits on your lap, purrs as you pet it, then turns and bites your hand. I never thoroughly trust March.

But putting that paranoia aside, I’m delighted by the month’s unusually pleasant upturn. I just hope blustery ol’ March can stick to this congenial path all the way to April!

Reach the writer at [email protected]

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