March 26, 2009 -

Spring Flood

If your idea of spring is that April showers bring May flowers, you’re not from New Hampshire.  Spring is the only ugly season we have.   A more accurate description would be “April floods bring May muds.”

NH native Russell Banks, a novelist and screenwriter, had it right when he said, “We don’t trust spring in New Hampshire.”

After a week of clear weather, in the 50′s, drivers could see over the big snow banks on the streets, leaving just patches of filthy snow, with large mud puddles poking up between receding snow cover on people’s lawns.  The spring weather had almost everyone believing, even me.  Then it snowed all day on the first day of spring, 2011.  We still have 4-8 weeks of an unpredictable, up-and-down season before all the snow is gone and the temperature stays above 40 all night.

Even then, there’s no guarantee that the golf courses, soccer and baseball fields will be dry enough to play on before late May.  Some years, temperatures go from the 40s to the 80s, winter to summer, without stopping at all for any spring.

How long should we wait before putting in our tomatoes?  It could be sunny and warm enough to plant for a week, with a hard freeze the following week.  Guess wrong and you have no homegrown tomatoes, and “there’s only two things money can’t buy: real true love and homegrown tomatoes.” The rule of thumb I know is Memorial Day, the day people in North Carolina start bringing in their first ripe tomatoes.

Everybody has their own signs that spring is coming or is here to stay.  One sign everybody agrees on is spring floods, which seem to be more damaging and frequent than they used to be.

For me, the first sign is when the pitchers and catchers report for spring training.  It’s spring when they come north and start playing games that count in the six-month pennant race, and spring is really here when it’s warm enough to sit through a night game without dressing for football in November.

Robert Frost (or was it Donald Hall?) said the first sign is crocuses poking through, and blooming above the snow.  I first saw that in Durham in the early 1980s.  If you’re not from New Hampshire, it’s a remarkable sight on a cold day.

Right now, we’re experiencing sub-freezing nights and above-freezing days. That’s what gives us maple syrup.  It also allows us to step away from the woodstove, where we’ve been stuck since late November, and go to Town Meeting, still cranky and achy enough to enjoy calling our neighbors stupid, short-sighted and narrow-minded.

More and more towns are doing away with the traditional Town Meeting, the last participatory element in our democracy, older than the United States.  Now, under a system called SB2, more and more towns are opting for “deliberative sessions” (discussion) on the traditional Saturday, and voting for local candidates, and yes or know on issues, by secret ballot in a polling place on Tuesday.

Instead of spending the day at Town Meeting, more and more people were watching on local cable TV, and showing up to vote on the issues they cared about (like the U.S. Congress).  As populations in small towns grew, the percentage of people participating in Town Meeting shrank, and SB2 was supposed to be a solution to that.  Maybe, but at what cost?

I moved here in December, 1977.  We had a Nor’easter that January, more snow than I’d ever seen.  It scared me to death.  The Blizzard of ’78, three weeks later, was more snow and wind than TV weatherman Don Kent,  who had been predicting New England weather for 50 years, had ever seen. We had a magnificent spring that year.  All the bare mountains blossomed or turned green overnight.

What I don’t understand is why people who have been here a long time are surprised every year by our cold, wet, muddy, unpredictable spring.  Aren’t three uniquely beautiful, profitable tourist seasons a year enough?

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