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A Hard Spring

Garth Brown |

After an average winter, it’s been a hard spring. The thermometer read ten this morning, and snow flurry dusted the four inches that fell yesterday. The forecast of actual warmth later this week is little comfort, considering in a normal year the pastures would already be starting to green up. We’ll likely have to buy some extra hay to make it, but the animals seem to have a restless energy, with sheep and cows nosing through snow to the desiccated thatch of last year’s grass. And soon it will be time for piglets and lambs to arrive.

While these conditions are less than ideal for livestock, they’re harder on the wildlife. There are more birds than ever - red-winged blackbirds, robins, goldfinches, starlings - all gleaning burdock seeds or looking for worms in patches of ground swept bare by the wind. Last week I spotted the year's first northern harrier gliding slow and low in search of a vole foolish enough to peek above the snow. Even more striking are the deer. For most of the year they are furtive, largely nocturnal, and quick to run. Now at least a dozen are in the hill pasture all through the day, pawing away in search of sustenance, and when Oban and I walk up the road they simply watch.

When I feel a lift in my chest at the smell of warmth and the scent of thawing earth it’s easy to understand why, in communities that are predominantly agricultural, the verdant rush of spring brings with it festivals to welcome a season of birth and growth. Because it’s been so slow to change the weather has lately been on my mind even more than usual, and perhaps that’s why I’m acutely aware of the absence of a collective celebration this year.

A late spring is a minor problem relative to other issues facing agriculture in my area, but there are also reasons for hope. Yesterday Alanna and I went to a potluck with a group of beginning farmers, where we discussed meeting regularly to collaborate and discuss practical aspects of production, but also to socialize. Who knows? Maybe in the coming years we’ll get together for no other reason than to mark the end of winter.


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