I try not to write about the seasons. How many ways can spring be described or a winter storm? Still, it’s difficult not to mention March while on the cusp of April, especially this year.

March roared in with a blizzard, which was the first of three, each with equal amounts of wind and snow. Three times, Donnie has cleared the paths to his sugar trees. This month has been worse than most winters. Today, however, the sun is shining, and I have the door open. I realize that’s pushing it, but this house needs some fresh air.

There is a lot more to March than meets the eye. Several important things happen in March besides the change in the weather, a couple of them unique to New England.

One is the making of maple syrup. To be honest, I don’t know how many states make maple syrup in the United States, besides Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire, but it certainly isn’t made anywhere south of here. The process of collecting sap and boiling it into syrup is amazing to me. I often wonder how the natives discovered that syrup could be made from boiling the sap. At this writing, we have yet to boil any sap since we’ve just tapped the trees this year, but it won’t be long. A few warm days and the buckets will be overflowing.

Quite a sweet trade

Donnie and I have always liked the idea of being self-sufficient, and making our own syrup fits into that philosophy. I love to see those fruit jars of syrup lined up on the root cellar shelves. Of course we can’t eat all we make, so we sell some and use some for bartering as well. We’ve traded syrup for all kinds of things including having the car worked on.

Another unique March occurrence is the town meeting.

Here in West Paris, the first Saturday of March is set aside for town meeting. As long as we’ve lived in West Paris, the auditorium of the Agnes Gray School has been filled to capacity with people wanting to have a voice in the governance of the town.

I’m not a very political person, but this seems so important to me. I don’t think most Mainers realize that the majority of states in the United States don’t have this opportunity and, in fact, have never even heard of a town meeting. Usually towns across the country have mayors and city councils that make decisions for the city. Citizens have no say except in voting for the people who run things. If I remember correctly from history class, that is called “representative democracy.” For us, the fortunate people who live in Maine, we have a system called “direct democracy” and as such have a voice in everything that happens here from which streets to pave, how much money to budget for the Fire Department and the library, and how to run the soap box derby. Town meetings are one of the great things about Maine. I hope the system never changes.

Tracking the sun

And finally, March is the time of the vernal equinox. For people not aware of the cycles of nature, the day will probably go by without any hint that it’s a special day. I’m very much aware of the movements of the sun and moon and stars, and pay attention to these things. The ancient people noticed as well. The repetition of heavenly events was reassuring to them. How scary it must have been to see the sun almost disappear from the sky by the time of the winter solstice. The designated sun watchers kept track of these movements, noting where the sun came up every morning and where it set every night. I keep track, too.

In the dead of winter, the rising sun shines through my south-facing windows. On the winter solstice, it rises directly over Streaked Mountain. As the new year progresses, the sun moves from window to window. On the vernal equinox, the sun looks straight in a bathroom window that is almost due east. As it moves around the house, the weather changes from cold and snowy to warm, then hot.

Somehow, watching the sun helps me get through the difficult days of winter. Of course, as you are reading this, the sun has passed this point and is on the way to its summer house. Days will already be longer than nights. Not a minute too soon either, because I am sooooo done with winter.

March is that time in the middle, a month easy to overlook, but in reality an important month a time for saying goodbye to winter, for making maple syrup and for going to town meeting. And for me, it means I have lived through February, my worst month of the year.

Jeanette Baldridge is a writer and teacher who lives in West Paris, who is a regular contributor to this column. She can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]


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