MARCH

March 1st SNOWMEN
The last few days of February were warming up nicely and hinted of spring. Today, however, we woke up to four inches of heavy wet snow. This was good snowman building snow, so instead of shoveling the driveway, I made a snowman by rolling balls up and down the driveway. Pete quickly joined in the fun, and we were able to make not only one, but two snowmen. I used bottle caps and rose hips for the buttons and eyes, and branches for the arms. Pete extricated last year's robin's nest from the grape arbor and added it for a hat. The other fellow received an upside down flower pot on his head.

March 3rd BAKING BREAD
Typical March weather continues; damp, chilly, gray and blustery. This would be a good day to stay indoors and finish up the last of the rugs I had started weaving last month. It is also a good day to make bread.

The bread we make is a sourdough bread from starter. Sourdough starters can be bought or made, cookbooks often have recipes for this, but the best way to get your starter is from a friend. Ours was given to us by a friend who in turn got it from a friend to whom it was handed down from her great grandmother in Tennessee. She claims it was one hundred and fifty years old when we got it five years ago, and it is still going strong.

Having bread starter is a little bit like having a pet. You need to "feed" it on a regular basis, store it properly, and protect it from freezing. Different starters require different food. Ours likes to be fed a cup of flour, a tablespoon of sugar and a cup of warm potato water once a week. We generally take our starter along when we go on long trips. Our starter has been to Texas, Atlanta, New Orleans, Cape Cod, and even back to Tennessee. It has participated in many parties, pot-luck suppers and picnics, being the star attraction of at least one Thanksgiving dinner.

March 5th ANXIOUSLY AWAITING SPRING
All around us, cities in the northeast are getting huge amounts of snow while we have only gotten flurries or an inch or two at best. I am, on the one hand, anxious and ready for spring but experience tells me that our turn for a two foot snowfall is coming up. Nonetheless, I put away my loom in anticipation of my next project; tapping the maple trees and making syrup. This is traditionally done in mid-March, but depending on the weather, can be started as early as late February, or can linger on into mid-April. The signal to begin is the combination of clear warm days and cold crisp nights. In essence, spring.

March 6th OUR TURN
Apparently just thinking "spring" has conjured up the storm clouds, and right on cue the snow has begun. Once again the yard is filled with dozens of those fat little juncos. It's as if they were trying to eat enough to last out the storm, and it seems to me, the more active the juncos, the heavier the snowfall. Many people refer to the juncos as "snowbirds" because of their habit of flitting about during a storm, whereas most other birds and squirrels take shelter. In fact, I have never seen the juncos out and about on nice days. And they seem to disappear completely come springtime.

March 8th WINTER LEAVES
We ended up with eighteen inches of snow, and the nightime temperatures have gone back down to 5 degrees below zero. Winter is not over yet.

This morning, however, is sunny and beautiful, so I tried skiing a bit around the woods in the new snow. It was very deep and tough going at first, but eventually I was able to make a track. Later, around noon, we dug out the garden bench, which is situated at the northern most corner of the garden facing south. We had our lunch out there, and then I sketched some of the beech tree saplings.

The beech tree (Fagus grandifolia) is a very common hardwood in this area. It is a tall forest tree with distinctively smooth, pale-grey bark, the one that young lovers most commonly carve their initials upon. The initials may persist for several decades, in some cases, long after the love has waned. Rebecca Rupp, in her book Red Oaks and Black Birches, notes that the custom dates back to Roman times, attested to by the surviving Latin proverb "Crescent illae; crescetis amores," meaning "As these letters grow, so may our love."

Beech wood is an excellent fuel, and the fruits, or beechnuts, are an important food for wildlife. They are tasty and nutritious enough for us to eat too, but because they grow so high above the ground, we must wait until they fall off the trees and try to beat the squirrels to the booty. The squirrels are a lot better at this than me, and I rarely find more than a handful or two, usually in late October after a frost.

On the younger trees, the leaves remain intact all winter long, making this tree stand out in the crowd. This is due to a chemical called auxin present in the abscission layer at the base of each leaf's stem where it is attached to the tree. In most species the auxin levels drop after the chlorophyll has broken down and the leaf no longer functions as a food supplier. This in turn weakens the abscission layer and the leaf blows away in the wind. In young beech trees, and to a lesser degree in young oaks, the auxin levels remain unchanged and so the leaf hangs on. The color of these leaves ranges from dark copper to peachy to a pale tan, with enough shades in between to fill a hosiery rack. The color fluctuates with the weather too, becoming brighter in damp warm weather, and lighter on cold dry days. Today they are pale, almost translucent, and tightly curled.

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