With the coming of March, my mind languished either in the future, dreaming of blossoming leaves and shoots of peas and wild trillium on the woodland floor, or in the past, licking my wounds of the winter and marveling that I made it through in pretty good shape. March epitomized such thinking. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if Julius Caesar got so caught up in the reveries of spring that he thought Brutus was coming by to borrow a cup of sugar.
So instead of being beware of the Ides of March, I tried to be aware of March’s subtle yet wondrous transitions. As November cowered at the gateway of the long, droning winter—a kind of Charon at the river Styx—March mirrored Icarus, rising high toward the spring sun, too confident, until its waxed wings melted and it plummeted to earth as a fresh winter storm or cold spell—a plunge that caught me and my wood supply off guard. “I’ve got more than enough wood,” I said to myself at the beginning of the month. But each day of sub-freezing, windswept, and sometimes snowy weather withered my pile dangerously low.
In New Hampshire, folks branded March a winter month, yet the lifeblood of spring began to flow. As the days warmed, the maple sap rose in the awakening trees. The snow cover, which seemed as if it would last until June, began to recede—slow, recalcitrant. A day with the temperature in the fifties, the next, winter again—a storm, a cold penetrating wind, made even colder by the brief offerings of warmth and the way it tricked the mind into complacence. Yet the signs accented the coming change—the longer days, the copious flow of maple sap, and the way that sap turned milky when the buds were pregnant with leaf blossoms.
The forest seemed to bristle with more activity. Small animals, as evidenced by their tracks, crisscrossed, like busy shoppers, from tree to tree. More birds paused from their intense business of winter survival to sing a few notes of springtime exultation. March was the herald of salvation for the forest. All around, trees stood winter-weary, rocked and buffeted and battered by the three furies: December, January, and February.
Some were down and gone, sacrifices to the nature spirits. Others stood scarred and limbless, creaking Waltzing Matilda as the cold March winds bullied them, emulating the power of January—a power forever denied March by the higher and longer course of the sun. The equinox neared, and the thought of it sustained me through this ephemeral late winter. For, like the trees, my veneer had been worn thin by violent winter winds and weather.
Yet also like the majority of trees, my core was intact and strengthened by this winter experienced and survived. I emerged from the battle triumphant and, in the struggling, knew more of me—my resilience, my fears, my capacities, my failings. Yet, as my internal conflict of opposites continued, March lingered incomplete, unfinished, a Panmunjom among months. Love, hate, open, closed, sad, joy, heart, head, fear, peace—opposites that March reflected.
For like no other month, March signaled an end and a beginning. It was the death of winter and the conception of spring. It was a depleted woodpile and a plan for the garden. In March thoughts turned away from the tempered-steel winter toward the butterfly spring. Yet March bent like an apple branch, springy and whippy, then snapped—an exaggerated blast of cold and storm if you let your mind get too far ahead.
But on the ends of the windblown branches of this wild month, buds clung poised and ready to pirouette when the curtain rose. And with March, the crowd stirred and the show began.
New Ipswich, New Hampshire
copyright Stephen Altschuler 2017
First appeared in Sacred Paths and Muddy Places (Stillpoint Publishing, Walpole NH, 1993)