It looks like spring is finally arriving in New Hampshire, and with it, the opportunity to burn brush piles without a permit is fast evaporating. As long as there is snow on the ground, Northfield (and most other towns in New Hampshire) does not require a burn permit. So I got busy and lit one.

This snow is gone now

This snow is gone now

This brush pile was too big to light in situ. I was afraid the flames would climb a little too high and scorch the tree limbs that hang over it. I don’t think there were any tree limbs hanging over it when I started the pile, so that should give some idea as to how long I have been piling brush here.

Instead, I removed the brush from the pile and burned it in a much more controllable fire next to it. I thought I’d be out there until midnight, so I started the fire well before Beth was out of school. Unfortunately, it went quite a bit faster than I anticipated, and by the time she got home, it was nearly gone.

I saw another sign of spring on Thursday:

Red Maple (Acer rubrum)

Red Maple (Acer rubrum)

These are the first flowers I’ve seen, and were blooming on the banks of the Merrimack River in Concord. When I got home after taking these shots, I went out and took down my sap buckets. There wasn’t much sap in them at all, and it had more of a yellowish color, so I dumped it out. All in all, I think I collected 8 or ten gallons of sap. I have boiled it most of the way down, but it needs to go a little more, as it’s still a little too thin. As is, I have almost a quart, but it will be less than that when I reduce it some more.

And now for some big news – last week I wrote that we were treated to the spectacle of an American Woodcock outside one of the windows at church. Well, I suppose that bird has taken up residence, as it was out there again today. The kids who go to school at our church tell me they’ve been seeing this bird all week. One kid wanted to throw a dodge ball at it, but one of my Pathfinders stopped him (yay!)

But I didn’t know about that until this morning. I was going to the Pathfinder trailer to get the rest of a flag pole when I heard the woodcock stir in the bushes, startled (but not too much I guess) at my arrival. He didn’t fly off, so I fetched my camera.

American Woodcock (Scolopax minor)

American Woodcock (Scolopax minor)

It started bobbing while I was taking pictures, so I went ahead and shot a little shakey hand-held video while I was out there.

Today was also a pretty big day for the Pathfinder Club. We drove up to the Laconia Church to present the worship service there. We’ve been working on another Biblical newscast. This one was taken from the Gospel of Mark, and included pre-recorded segments for our “live action reporters” as well as live, on-stage performances with our anchor crew who would interact with the pre-recorded performers.

We were supposed to present this at our church in Concord first, but a week before we were scheduled to do it, the external hard drive containing all our footage was plugged into the wrong power supply and bit the big one. So we rescheduled for April 13 and re-shot all the video. This meant that our second scheduled performance would become our first performance.

I’d post a link to the pre-recorded segments, but since they rely on banter with live, unrecorded people, it would be pretty confusing. We intend to record the live performance part too when we present in Concord, so if I can get my hands on that footage, I will link you to it.

Today marks the first day this year that I have had no snow on my property. We had some yesterday, but it is gone now. I guess that means spring is really here now. I heard some spring peepers today too, so there’s another sign. I suppose I can put the snowshoes away now.

The big question now is whether the snow will be gone at my friend Ken’s place this weekend, as the Pathfinders will be camping there. We need to finish up the Camping Skills honors and polish off the Pioneering honor. I also need to teach Stars – Advanced to a few of them. Unless it’s cloudy (the forecast is calling for rain). That’s OK too though, as one of the requirements for Camping Skills is to light a fire in wet weather. I make them all do that whenever we camp in the rain, as I don’t want to find myself in the position of hoping it rains on a campout so they can meet that requirement. It’s better to take advantage of the situation as it arises (which is plenty often enough).

When I got home tonight I went into my woods to look for trailing arbutus. There’s plenty of it around since it’s an evergreen plant, and they are almost ready to bloom. Maybe by the end of the week. Here’s how they were looking today:

Epigaea repens

Epigaea repens

Our church has been conducting some seminars in Franklin about five miles from my house this month. I went tonight to help out with the kids, but there were no kids there. On my way to the car I was greeted by this:

Sunset on the Mill

Sunset on the Mill

I assume this building was once a mill of some sort, as it looks old and is located right on the banks of the Winnepesaukee River. I guess the composition could have been better, but the sunset was fading fast and I had the camera perched on the top of a chain link fence (with barbed wire along the top) surrounding an electrical substation. I didn’t think the substation would add much to the photo, so I zoomed until I was shooting over it.

Two days ago we got about four inches of snow.

Snow-covered bushes

March 22

I thought it was beautiful, but a lot of people in these parts grumbled about it. We had more snow today, but no accumulation. It was coming down fluriously around lunchtime. I met Jonathan at the Tea Garden, which is our habit on Thursdays. Along the way I passed a silver maple (Acer saccharinum) and from a distance I could tell that it was in bloom. When I got close, I verified.
Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum) blossoms

Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum) blossoms

It is the first blossom I’ve seen this year. It beat the crocus and the hyacinths, and I was glad to see it, even if it does mean I won’t be getting much more in the way of snow this year.

I still have six inches of snowpack at my place. There are, however, a few bare spots in the woods here and there.

I'm melting!

I'm melting!

It’s hard to tell if that’s enough to justify snowshoes, or if I’m just putting them on for fun. 🙂 But I did put them on today, and found two or three quarts of sap in my maple bucket. I emptied it into my six gallon jug, and noted that it’s pretty close to half full now. I might have to start boiling it down soon. I don’t have a “real” evaporator – that’s hardly justified for only three gallons of sap, especially since they ask four digits for those on Craigslist. I don’t know why! Instead, I will just use a big soup pot. It worked last time.



As soon as Jonathan and I got off the Interstate after work today, we were greeted by some awesome fogginess. So I parked the car, got out and took some photos. I think this one turned out the best. Just beyond that treeline in the back is the Merrimack River.

The snow is only about a foot deep in my yard now. I put the snowshoes on when I got home so I could check my sap bucket. It doesn’t seem to have gained any so far this week. Oh well. There are several vernal pools in the pathway between the house and the bucket though. I went around. Even though snowshoes make me float on snow, I don’t think they’d be very effective at keeping my feet above liquid water. I stopped and peered into several of the pools looking for salamanders, but found none. I didn’t spend a lot of time looking though. I will look again as spring progresses.

It was something like 40 degrees when I got up this morning, with a heavy fog and light rain. The rain was pretty heavy all day yesterday too, and none of that was very kind to the snowpack. We’ve lost about a foot of it at my house. It has all but disappeared inside the Interstate’s cloverleafs around Concord.

I guess I should start thinking about wildflowers and stop moping about having to wait another nine months to do any more snowshoeing. I should also be glad that I finally have more than a trickle of sap in my bucket – it might even be a quart as of this afternoon. The temperature plummeted by lunchtime, and that quart of sap was quite frozen when I checked on it. I was beginning to think I wouldn’t get any at all this year.

When I was a kid I loved spring. Now it’s my least favorite season of all. I guess the mud we get around here plays a big hand in that, along with the ruts in the roads, and potholes. I also mourn the loss of the snow and cringe in anticipation of the blackflies and then the mosquitoes. But soon I will start looking for trailing arbutus, crocus, coltsfoot, forsythia, and hyacinth blossoms. Also salamanders and frogs. Daylight savings begins in what… a week? That’s always welcome. And then camping season will arrive. So I guess it’s not all bad!

There is certainly nothing to complain about in the weather department. This past week has been gorgeous: 70 degrees, clear skies, cool breezes. No insects yet to speak of either. There are a few mosquitoes, but not too many, and I haven’t seen any black flies yet either.

I went to the capitol today to hand in a form requesting permission to use the capitol grounds for a U.S. Flag retirement ceremony over Memorial Day weekend. I don’t know what our chances are. They didn’t have anything else scheduled that day, but the clerk was not exactly hopeful for our prospects since there will be a fire involved. We plan to confine the fire to a portable outdoor patio fireplace, but I’m guessing that when bureaucrats read the word “fire” they’re just going to panic. The clerk suggested that I contact the city of Concord too, because they control the sidewalk (and pavilion) in front of the capitol. So I mosied over to the city and they gave me a form to fill out. They charge a $10.80 application fee, levied whether they grant permission or not. I think that kinda sucks! It’s not a lot of money, but still. I’m going to wait to see what the state says first. And then I might check with the veteran’s cemetery.

The best thing that came out of my trip to the gov’t buildings was that I saw a huge cherry tree in bloom. Also some dandelions (first dandelions of the year).

Today we did a little house cleaning. We sent the dog outside to keep her out of the way while Va mopped, and the boys and I took turns occupying her while the floor dried. Otherwise she would stand at the sliding glass door and bark “let me in!” endlessly. I took the last shift, and by then, Penny was filthy. There was no way she was coming into the house like that. So I threw yet another stick to distract the dog, stuck my head in the door, and told Beth to run some bath water for Penny. She did. Then I picked her up and plunked her in.

Penny never enjoys baths, but for some reason she revels in ice cold, mud-laden vernal pools in the woods. Shrug. Then I wrapped her in a towel and hauled her out to the deck. Jonathan helped me keep her corralled there so she couldn’t get in the yard and muddy herself up again. I just wanted her to shake the water from her fur outside. She did several times, and then we let her back in the house. Clean house. Clean dog. For about an hour.

Penny went outside again, and pretty much undid her bath. Oh well. We can’t keep her cooped up in the house. A dog with that much energy needs to run.

Spring is the worst season in New Hampshire. They don’t even call it “spring” here very much – it’s “mud season” and it is accurately named. I’m hoping it won’t be so bad this year, because we didn’t get all that much snow. So the snow pack shouldn’t really be enough to make it sloppy for too very long. But it sure is sloppy now. The roads are the worst though. Last year we had a wallow in front of our house that was just almost impassable. This year, it’s not so bad in that spot, but it’s starting to get dicey a little further down. Maybe they’ll pave it one of these days, but in the current economy, I can well imagine that that’s not going to happen for a while.

Today I was having a really hard time staying awake at my desk. It was a little after 3:00, and I decided the best remedy would be to go outside and walk around the block.

It was very nice outside – about 50°F. As I was rounding the corner by the Mexican restaurant next door to our office, I spotted these:

A batch of crocus flowers

A batch of crocus flowers

These are the first blooms I’ve seen this year – outside anyhow. To me, those are the only ones that count.

When I got home I went out to check the sap bucket. We’ve been having cold nights and warm days, but there’s not as much sap in the bucket as I wanted to find there. Oh well. While I was out tooling around, I heard a flock of geese honking overhead and flying south. They flew right over the house, maybe 20 of them. Then some of them (or a different flock) circled around and flew over the house again, this time heading west (but still honking away). I didn’t know how long they would circle, so I went in after my camera. Of course they were gone when I got back out. I continued tramping about.

I heard some birds. I could see one high up in a tree, but I couldn’t tell what kind it was. Bird id from tiny silhouettes is not my forte. Maybe one of these day’s I’ll be able to recognize them by their songs, but that day is not today. I aimed my camera and zoomed in, converting the silhouette to something a bit more tangible (to me). It was an American Robin (Turdus migratorus). That would be harbinger number three.

I went back into the woods then, searching for salamanders in the numerous vernal pools we have. I’ve read that that’s where they breed at this time of the year, but I have yet to witness that. I took several pictures of moss and lichen. And a stump covered with both, peeking out from the snow.

Not exactly a harbinger, but it was still pretty.