Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Fickle Flirt


Portland Harbor 2017
Spring has teased for weeks now, but New England knows she’s a flirt and not always a pretty one. Snowbanks melt back along streets in Portland to show us accumulated trash the careless have dropped or thrown from car windows all winter. With it are thawing remains of pigeons and seagulls. Little is picked up because we know more snow will bury it again and soon.

My granddaughters in Lovell

Along country roads the melt exposes empty beer cans but thankfully not many. Other detritus is mostly leaves and branches — the benign debris of Nature. Turkey buzzards back from southern climes appear overhead scouting remains of forest animals too old and weak to have survived winter. During seasonal transitions we look forward and back. New England poet Robert Frost reflected on this in A Patch of Old Snow:

There’s a patch of old snow in a corner
That I should have guessed
Was a blow-away paper
The rain had brought to rest.

It is speckled with grime as if
Small print overspread it,
The news of a day I’ve forgotten — 
If I ever read it.

Few poets appeal to me but Frost always has, and he knew the tease of March and April. Reading him I see it, smell it, feel it.

Frost in New Hampshire

Warm breezes over Portland Harbor carry a stronger scent of salt water. The sea was whipped up last weekend by a strong storm to our south and helped a full moon, making high tide very high indeed. Wind whipped the white salt spray from tops of waves, but Boston and Cape Cod absorbed most of the fury.


Next to Portland Harbor a mountain of snow melts slowly. Front-end loaders on city streets filled trucks that dumped load after load beside it as bulldozers pushed snow up ever higher up its side. Like the dirty snowbanks that comprise it, no white is visible. It’s a pile of frozen liquid covered with sand that doesn’t melt completely until the end of May sometime.

My back yard

After the flirt of our fickle New England spring comes the snub. By the time you’re reading this another storm will have blanketed everything once again. Then spring will resume her flirting only to spurn us again before April arrives. But our April spring isn’t steadfast either. Frost tells of that in the third stanza of Two Tramps in Mudtime:

The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You're one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
A wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you're two months back in the middle of March.


It’s not just ominous buzzards. Other, more agreeable birds appear too. Near the sea in South Portland I’ll see cardinals, but rarely do I see them in the mountains near Lovell.


Out my office window to NH

Frost the poet spent decades in New Hampshire, the mountains of which I see out my office window in western Maine. He describes another spring songbird in the fourth stanza:

A bluebird comes tenderly up to alight
And turns to the wind to unruffle a plume,
His song so pitched as not to excite
A single flower as yet to bloom.
It is snowing a flake; and he half knew
Winter was only playing possum.
Except in color he isn't blue,
But he wouldn't advise a thing to blossom.


March brings New Englanders together in town meetings as sap buckets appear on old maple trees. Mud forms atop frozen ground after the sun is high but freezes again at night — over and over before finally drying firm again. Mud doesn’t impede life in paved-over cities but it brings many things to a halt in the countryside. Roads are posted against heavy trucks. Loggers and builders wait for mud to dry, but most of us savor warm spring breezes. Frost wrote about those in To the Thawing Wind:


Come with rain, O loud Southwester! 
Bring the singer, bring the nester; 
Give the buried flower a dream; 
Make the settled snow-bank steam; 
Find the brown beneath the white; 
But whate’er you do to-night, 
Bathe my window, make it flow, 
Melt it as the ice will go; 
Melt the glass and leave the sticks 
Like a hermit’s crucifix; 
Burst into my narrow stall; 
Swing the picture on the wall; 
Run the rattling pages o’er; 
Scatter poems on the floor; 
Turn the poet out of door.

When our New England spring finally exposes the brown earth beneath, my wife is turned out with her boots on to scratch it and coax her buried flowers upward.

3 comments:

Uber_Fritz said...

Tom:

This a splendid conglomerate of prose and poetry!

Peter said...

Nice! Frost has been a favorite among our family since my grandfather became a fan long ago.

ava said...

Frost is also one of my favorites as well as my family's. This is a wonderful column!