What season is it, anyway?

I’m sitting here, 10:30 at night, scratching a mosquito bite. I know that sounds prosaic, but when you’re munched on by a “skeeto” in early March, that’s a bit odd. After all, there’s still snow on the ground (OK it’s just a dab, but it’s there); we were shoveling more than two feet of snow just a month ago, and as of yesterday we only went outside bundled up like ten-year-olds out for a day of January sledding. So what was that little bomber doing awake at this time of year?

And s/he wasn’t alone in early rising. I sent a small troup of slab ants to their greater reward in the kitchen this afternoon, along with a good-sized spider (which I’m loathe to kill; but she wouldn’t have fared too well outside, either). Just because it was unseasonably warm today (an amazing 70°), that’s no reason for insects to jump the gun and haul themselves out of hiding and into the world at large. It’s not a very workable plan. Come Tuesday and the return of respectable March weather, they’ll pay a dear price for their premature appearance.

This is sugaring season, when temperatures usually run below freezing overnight and into the low 40’s during the day. Those are the ideal conditions for our maple trees’ sap to roar up from the rich Earth, zooming skyward through the sapwood in the morning, then reversing direction and falling back to Earth at night. The sun plays a big role, too. When the high branches sense the sun’s climb up from the southern sky, they holler down to the roots that it’s time to draw up the lifeblood, stirring the tree’s first yawns and stretches from a long winter’s nap.

It’s possible that this little warm spell might trigger the maple tree’s full awakening; when a tree leaves dormancy, buds will begin to appear. During that phase, the sap changes from crystal clear to a brown-ish yellow. It’s no longer ideal for making syrup, taking on a darker color and a “buddiness” to the taste. And that’s when we cease our busy sugaring operation, finishing off whatever sap is in storage, labeling the last of the bottles, washing the pans one last time …

We’re all on a cusp. It’s not exactly winter. But it’s not exactly spring, either. Should I sleep or get up? Stop making syrup or keep going? Make buds? Crawl out of whatever hidey-hole protects a brave little mosquito and venture into the daylight? We don’t know. None of us. We just make our decisions as we go, some great, some dangerous, some ridiculous, some brilliant.

This time may be hard to navigate, but it’s also loaded with wonder and surprise. Everything is hovering between the was and the will-be, death and new life. Maybe we should call this in-between time “sprinter”. Or maybe we should call it Lent.

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