The Promise of March

By Kate Crowley
I know the old saying has March coming in “like a lion”, but in my opinion, this year it came in “like a polar bear”.  There isn’t much more I can say that hasn’t already been said about this exceptionally cold, snowy winter.  It’s true that a long series of mild winters led to a collective memory loss of what winters CAN be like in Minnesota. Just two years ago we were setting record high temperatures in March.  
Mike and I know we are exceptions when it comes to our love of winter, but even we have found the subzero temperatures restricting our ability to really enjoy it to the fullest.  However, we continue to see beauty in this white landscape – such a clean, pure canvas.  Yes, we do miss the colors of spring and summer, but if nothing else, it makes us all the more appreciative when the snow does go and the colors return.  And when it comes right down to it, what does it benefit us to complain and rage against something we have absolutely no control of? 
March can be a very frustrating month, because it promises spring, but rarely delivers.  Still, it’s worth paying attention to the subtle changes, especially when spirits are sagging.  I check my Weatherguide Calendar and Jim Gilbert’s Nature Notes to get a sense of hope in the coming weeks.  Before any of the usual developments can occur however, we will have to get well above zero Fahrenheit.  This morning it was -26F at our house and the state has broken records for number of subzero days and nights, but there appears to be a warming trend coming this week. 
One of the nicest changes that weather cannot impede is the return of the longer daylight period.  We will gain nearly 3 minutes of extra daylight each day of this month, adding up to an additional one hour and 34 minutes by March 31st.  That in itself is worth celebrating.
There are places with open water on some of our rivers and streams and one of the earliest returning waterfowl are the Canada geese.  The earliest explorers will seek out these open patches of water, biding their time until they can reach a body of water to build their nests near. Not far behind will be the multitudes of ducks and water birds like the great blue herons that have a rookery near Pine City.  You can see it as you drive south on I35 and cross over the Snake River.  It is to the West and very easy to see all the nests in the treetops before the leaves emerge. 
Normally, the maple sap begins to flow early in this month.  It needs daytime temperatures above freezing and night times below.  Clear skies are also important for a good run, but the 60+ inches of snow covering the ground may slow the flow down a bit.  Most certainly, it will slow down the humans who have to wade through it to get to the trees to tap them and collect the syrup.  I remember one year at the Audubon Center when the snow was deep and an already exhausting job became nearly impossible.  If you ever wonder why maple syrup costs more than the artificial kind, just go out and help a producer for a day; you will quickly understand the labor involved. 
While returning birds may be delayed some by the immense amounts of snow and continuing cold temperatures, many plants will continue the process of change. Pussy willow twigs will start to show swelling and if you want to get a boost from nature, cut some of these twigs or other flowering shrubs and bring them into your warm house.  Gradually they will expand and even leaf out.  If you have south facing gardens, especially close to the house, the stronger sunlight will help melt the snow and may even encourage some sprouts of crocuses to poke up later in the month. I have already seen the long, arching branches of willows glowing golden yellow, the result of solar absorption.

I won’t go out on a limb and predict that we will see red-winged blackbirds, robins or bluebirds anytime soon, but they will only be held back so long.  The sun is pulling them north and we know that a few risk takers always arrive too early, but I really hope they wait until this stubborn Polar Vortex finally decides to retreat to the Polar Regions for the rest of the year.   


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