Yesterday, the temperature reached 50º F in central Maine, and it has been sunny and warm for well over a week. The snow banks are nearly gone, and the sides of the road are so dry that my dog, Liam, hardly has any mud on his feet when we come in from our afternoon walks. I wish I could say the same thing about our backyard, which is fenced-in for the dog. Right now, most of the snow has melted, and the yard is a muddy mess, especially the paths that Liam has carved with his flying paws as he races around the perimeter of the patio. I’ve lived in Maine for over fifty-two years, and I have never seen a March like this. Usually, it is quite cold, and the snow doesn’t even think about melting until the end of the month. My daughter Shannon’s birthday is the end of April, and one of her ongoing birthday wishes is that all the snow will be gone by then, and a green flush will have crept over the lawns. Well, this year I expect she will definitely get her wish. At the rate things are going, the snow will be gone by the middle of March, which means we are over a month ahead of where we should be.
So what’s to complain about? Who wouldn’t like warm, sunny days in March after the cold of January and February? And, the truth is, I do like the warmer weather. Afternoon walks are a pleasure, and my thoughts have turned to gardening and yard work, which I truly enjoy. (Even raking, sweeping the driveway, and clipping brush. I just love being outside.)
But there is a downside to all this, and it concerns maple syrup. In a previous post—Maple Sugaring Time—I wrote about how in Maine March is the month for tapping trees and making syrup, a sweet, sweet sign of spring and eagerly anticipated. As soon as the tubing and the buckets make their appearance in the woods, I’m ready for a maple syrup breakfast at Jillson’s Farm and Sugarhouse, and we plan to go this Saturday.
However, the warm weather had me worried. For the sap to run, the days need to be warm, but not as warm as they have been, and the nights need to be cold, much colder than they have been. This morning, I called Jillson’s to find out if there would be a maple syrup breakfast this weekend. Yes, there would be. How about the sugarhouse? Would it be fired up, making glorious syrup from sap? Well, maybe not. “It might be a short season this year,” the man on the phone told me. “Very short. If the weather cooperates, we’ll make syrup. If not, then we won’t. We can’t.”
That’s how it goes. Last year’s sap season was short, and this year’s might be even shorter. It all depends on the weather. We all depend upon the weather, and when it changes—as it is certainly doing, despite what skeptics might say—we gain things, and we lose things. In Maine, over the years since my childhood, we have gained shorter winters, ticks, Japanese beetles, cardinals, and turkeys. We seem to be losing our maple syrup season, and according to National Geographic, sugar maples, along with other trees, have begun migrating north, entlike, at “an average clip of sixty-two miles a century.” With their flying helicopter seeds, maple trees are especially well suited for migrating, and in the National Geographic piece, there is speculation that these trees are migrating even faster than the aforementioned sixty-two miles a century. So in time, we might lose our sugar maples altogether, and that will be the end of maple syrup in central and southern Maine. (Northern Maine, perhaps, will be able to hold onto their trees. It all depends on how warm things get.)
All I can say is, we humans had better start wising up.