The Nameless Season


IN the March page of our almanac, opposite the 20th of the month we find the bold assertion, "Now spring begins ; ” but in the northern part of New England, for which this almanac was especially compiled, the weather does not bear out the statement.

The snow may be gone from the fields except in grimy drifts, in hollows and along fences and woodsides ; but there is scarcely a sign of spring in the nakedness of pasture, meadow, and ploughed land, now more dreary in the dun desolation of lifeless grass, débris of stacks, and black furrows than when the first snow covered the lingering greenness of December.

It is quite as likely that the open lands are still under the worn and dusty blanket of snow, smirched with all the litter cast upon it by cross-lot-faring teams, and wintry winds blowing for months from every quarter. The same untidiness pervades all outdoors. We could never believe that so many odds and ends could have been thrown out of doors, helter-skelter, in three months of ordinary life, till the proof confronts us on the surface of the subsiding snow, or lies stranded on the bare earth. The wind comes with an icier breath from the wintrier north, and yet blows untempered from the south, over fields by turns frozen and sodden, through which the swollen brooks rush in yellow torrents with sullen, monotonous complaint.

One may get more comfort in the woods, though the snow, barred and netted by shadows, still lies deep in their shelter ; for here may be found the sugar-maker’s camp, with its mixed odors of pungent smoke and saccharine steam, its wide environment of dripping spouts and tinkling buckets, — signs that at last the pulse of the trees is stirred by a subtle promise of returning spring.

The coarse-grained snow is strewn thickly with shards of bark that the trees have sloughed in their long hibernation, with shreds and tatters of their tempest-torn branches. But all this litter does not offend the eye nor look out of place, like that which is scattered in fields and about homesteads. For nature, left to herself, has a knack of making her rubbish unuoticeable, and herself seemly even in her untidiness. When this three months’ downfall of fragments sinks to the carpet of flattened leaves, it will be at one with it, an inwoven pattern, as comely as the shifting mesh of browner shadows that trunks and branches weave between the splashes of sunshine. Among these is a garnishment of green moss patches and fronds of perennial ferns which tell of life that the stress of winter could not overcome. One may discover, amid the purple lobes of the squirrel-cup leaves, downy buds that promise blossoms, and others, callower, but of like promise, under the rusty links of the arbutus chain.

One hears the resonant call of a woodpecker rattled out on a seasoned branch or hollow stub, and may catch the muffled beat of the partridge’s drum, silent since the dreamy days of Indian summer, now throbbing again in slow and accelerated pulsations of evasive sound through the unroofed arches of the woodlands. And one may hear, wondering where the poor vagrants find food and water, the wild clangor of the geese trumpeting their aerial northward march, and the sibilant beat of the wild duck’s pinions,— hear the carol of an untimely bluebird and the disconsolate yelp of a robin ; but yet it is not spring.

Presently comes a great downfall of snow, making the earth beautiful again with a whiteness outshining that of the winter that is past. The damp flakes cling to every surface, and clothe wall, fence, and tree, field and forest, with a more radiant mantle than the dusty snow and slanted sunshine of winter gave them.

There is nothing hopeful of spring but a few meagre signs, and the tradition that spring has always come heretofore.

It is not winter, it is not spring, but a season with an individuality as marked as either, yet without a name.