Friday, April 01, 2011


So we have snow again today. Not much, but too much just the same. Around here, spring snows have names. There's the "Sugar Snow," which falls after the sap starts to run in the maple trees. It's good for the sap run, increases and prolongs it. This is the picturesque folklore snow described by Laura Ingalls Wilder in Little House in the Big Woods, and in Lillian Hoban's superb children's story The Sugar Snow Spring. Lots of people in lots of places have heard of sugar snow, and the sap in fact has started, as evidenced by buckets hung on the trees and Maple Festivals in nearby small towns. Then there's the "Robin Snow." This was a little harder to pin down to a written reference, but I found a thoughtful one on a blog called Basic North and another mention at Country Captures, a photography blog. Where we live, the definition agrees with the second one: snow after the robins come back. Basic North's grandmother said it falls after the robins start to sing. I've heard robins singing (as opposed to just chirping, which they do at first) in the past week. It's a heartrending, wistful, nostalgic melody, and according to Basic North's grandmother, portends two more snows. These may well be the "Onion Snow" and the "Sarvice Snow." The Onion Snow covers the ground after onions have been planted in the garden. The references I found all said the expression seems to be unique to central Pennsylvania, but this is western Maryland and it's known here as well. I planted onions about 10 days ago but..... I doubt if anyone else has, anyone with any sense, that is. No one plants anything until late April, and many don't try until Memorial Day. In a true Onion Snow, the green growing tops contrast prettily with their white blanket. Well, I planted plants, not sets (tiny bulbs) during a teaser warm spell and although I mulched them with straw they're looking pretty peaked after a week of return to sub-freezing temperatures. I'm an experienced gardener and know better than to plant anything in March, but I couldn't stand it anymore. I put out collard plants, too, and they don't look so good either. The Onion Snow is said, in some parts, to be the last snow of the year, but here in Garrett County, MD, we know there's at least one more to come: the "Sarvice Snow." I couldn't find any references at all to this one. The "sarvice" tree, or service tree, also known as juneberry and shadbush, flowers out in mid spring, and is so called because in days of yore its lacy white blooms graced the settings of services like weddings and funerals which had to be postponed during the winter, until the roads became passable to bring the preacher through again and/or the ground would yield once more to the edge of a shovel to dig a grave. I haven't heard this anywhere but here in Garrett County. Anyway, I know the sarvice blossoms aren't out yet, so the Sarvice Snow is yet to come. Maybe I can make one up. How about the "Coltsfoot Snow?" Coltsfoot is a little flower that looks like a small dandelion and grows mostly on the gravel shoulders of roadsides. I know people rejoice to see robins on their lawns but it's when I see coltsfoot that I know for sure that spring is coming. I started seeing coltsfoot just this past week, when I was out on one of my cold-weather-testing bike rides. Or the "Peeper Snow." Again, this past week, I perceived another hopeful sign: the tweet of just a couple of spring peepers. They sound a little like someone whistling for their dog. And when I hear them I thank God. It's spring! But when freezing temperatures and snow return (as they always do before the peepers find the partners with whom they want to reproduce) they stop and go back under the ground or fallen logs or wherever it is they hibernate. This snow has driven the peepers and their whistling back into winterland, not to be heard again until the next thaw. Or.... we could call it the "Bicycle Snow." Snow that dampens motivation, freezes enthusiasm, and wrecks the training program of the distance cyclist who has already ventured out hopefully on a few early rides. Well...... it doesn't damage the maples, or the robins, or the onions (except maybe my prematurely-planted ones) or the sarvice trees and it won't put this cyclist off the road for long.