We’ve reached that point in a long winter — the ground at my house has been covered by snow since Nov. 11 — when it seems that nearly all conversations start with the weather and soon include the F word. Florida.

Seems we’re barely into a conversation when someone says, “Maybe next winter I’ll go to Florida.” Of course, the snowbirds aren’t back yet, so everyone in the conversation is wintering out here. Most of those who say the F word will be right here next winter, too. As the Maine T-shirt slogan of my late friend Roger Smith had it, “If you can’t stand the wintah, you don’t deserve the summah.”

So we stay and we stand the winter. We grin and bear it. And hate it. And curse it. And persevere. We can’t predict what kind of a spring will finally break winter’s back, but we ask questions that only come up a few weeks a year. Have they posted the roads yet? They have. How’s the sap running? Slowly, but it’s picking up. Ever see potholes this bad? Nah, prob’ly not.

The weather bureau expects spring, which began Wednesday, to be warmer than usual with equal likelihoods of more or less rain than usual. The deep snowpack and the possibility of more than usual rain create the potential for spring floods around Maine.

That raises the memory of the Flood of’ ’87. Anyone who was in the Sandy River valley in the first week of April 1987 has a story or three to tell. The snowpack was deep and, on March 31, rain began falling in the upper Sandy River valley. Before it ended the next day, more than seven inches had fallen. Those seven inches had only one place to go, downstream, and they took the snowpack with them in liquid form.

It was the only time I have seen water over Route 2 at the Great Eddy in Skowhegan. Above the eddy, on the Margaret Chase Smith bridges, water poured almost horizontally through the Weston dam, where the water in normal times drops about 35 feet. A neighbor was trapped in her mobile home as the river rose and was huddled on the top bunk in a bedroom when the New Sharon fire company rescued her. Scores of firefighters and volunteers helped a riverbank farmer get his cows to higher ground.


It remains our benchmark flood and probably a benchmark spring around here. Come June, we hope we can say, “Well, least it wahn’t’s bad as ’87.”

No one, weather bureau or emergency management or local official along the Sandy can predict whether ’87 will revisit us. But in some towns, such as Phillips, they are at least getting ready and starting to tell folks what could happen and how to prepare. We have the snowpack, but who knows whether we’ll get the rain?

Memory of the flood of ’87 remains strong and so do the memories of spring floods when I was a boy in Columbia, Missouri. The Missouri River seemed to flood almost every spring. In 1947 and ’48, the river, about a third of a mile across, widened to more than five miles over the bottomland and within six miles of our house.

Our entertainment on those spring days was to drive out to water’s edge, near Perche Creek, and watch the water lapping across U.S. Route 40. If we timed the drive correctly — and we did because my father was a newspaperman — we could watch a rowboat with an outboard motor ferry hundreds of copies of The Kansas City Star over the water. The Star, which published 13 issues a week, never missed a delivery during the floods.

The whole scene was repeated in 1951. The Army Corps of Engineers has dammed and leveed much of the Missouri River, a project begun in 1933 and finished finally in 1966. As a result, the floods of ’47, ’48 and ’51 have become almost a spring thing of the past, with exceptions such as 2011 and this year of 2019. The Missouri was one of several rivers pouring over low land last week in Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri.

Even without the specter of water running in the streets, spring on our farm in New Sharon was always a time of edginess. When will the ground warm enough to till and plant the ranges with turkey forage? When will the air be warm enough to put young turkeys outside so I can put day-olds into the brooder house? When can we start to slog through the mud to repair gates and fences wiggled loose by frost shifting in the ground?


Since I sold the farm, I have come up with new markers to chart the progress, or lack of progress, of spring. Has the pile of snow that let go from the roof shrunk below the front windows? Is the swale in the snow over the septic tank deepening as the relatively warmer ground above the tank melts the snow atop it? Has the ice melted off the driveway so I can safely trek 150 yards to the road to fetch the newspaper and the mail? Is the top of the snowpack still above the four-feet-high fence of my old turkey ranges?

This year’s answers so far. The snow let go from the roof is still two feet above the bottom level of the windows. The septic-tank swale seems not to be deepening. I still have to inch across 20 yards of ice before I can walk on open ground to the road. Some of the top strand the fence is still beneath the snowpack.

The most positive and important sign of spring is that my daily burn of firewood is down from about 23 sticks to about 12.

The late Frank Brown, who owned the Sandy River Farm Supply store in New Sharon, was known around here as a prognosticator of winter’s depth. But Frank tired of the game and finally came round to replying, “It’ll be cold, and we’ll have a lot of snow” when people asked him to predict the coming winter.

Frank’s response suggests that all winters are the same, cold and snowy. But at the end of the tedium, we still look for marks that this winter distinguished itself from all others.

Bob Neal will start today rounding up his seed-starting pots. The seeds arrived last week. All the while keeping an eye on the shrinking woodpile. Hurry spring.

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