March is normally the time of year, at least here in the North Country, when we suffer anguish over which season we wish it would be. I go through it every year, part of me wishing for spring and the other part holding out for more snow. I know there are people out there like me who still wish we had more opportunities for cross-country skiing. There is nothing sweeter (except maybe maple syrup) than a spring ski on a warm March day, with fresh powder, bright sun, and brilliant blue skies. Tree tops pinkish orange with buds ready to burst into new growth.
But this year without a winter is even worse! I feel so cheated. My friend, artist Valerie Patterson, communicates how I feel perfectly in her watercolor painting, “Global Warming”. A lot of us who live here do so because we embrace and enjoy outdoor recreation in all seasons of the year. I’m sure no reminders are needed about how sparse our snow was and how warm the temperatures averaged. My Adirondack Artists Guild colleague Burdette Parks announced the ice went out on Middle Saranac on St Patrick’s Day this year – the earliest he and his wife, Fran Yardley, can remember. They reported the water stayed open much later this winter as well.
Earlier this week I hiked to Grassy Pond, one of my favorite local trails to ski. It’s located a little north of Paul Smiths on route 30. While much of the woods were bare, the hard packed snow of the trail was still there, iced over and slippery, packed down by those of us who were able to get in a few times to ski. I used micro-spikes for the entire hike. Two inches of new snow – that’s all I’d need, and this trail would be skiable once again. Do I dare wish for that or should I just give in and accept spring?
Being a plein air painter, I have gone out more this winter and painted outdoors, since I couldn’t ski. However, we have a Paint-Out scheduled for the April 15-17 at the Paul Smith’s College ViC. About 6-8 artists will be out there painting for the weekend. I initially promised them there would likely still be patches of snow in the woods to help add interest to painting compositions! Probably not this year! There might be wildflowers! In any case, the artists will frame up their wet paintings and we will hang a show of new works beginning April 20 and going until May 31.
The odd weather has also been deceptive. For me, I went out several times to paint on bright sunny days only to end up shivering with cold feet and numb fingers. Tricked into thinking it was warmer than it really was. Worse than that, we were all shocked by the tragic death of Hua Davis, while solo hiking McNaughton Mountain. Hypothermia was determined to be the cause. Perhaps she too misjudged the conditions based on the abnormal winter weather.
As I drove Route 3 from Saranac Lake to Tupper Lake yesterday, I took note of the fact that the landscape looked more like early October – the left side of the road, much of it facing north or east, still looked like the beginning of winter. There was a light layer of snow in the woods and lengthening blue afternoon shadows stretched through the trees. But the right side of the highway, facing south or west was bright and sunny, bare ground, orange beech leaves, green pines, and white birch creating a pleasing, bright scene. No snowbanks along the roadside.
It will be interesting to see how spring progresses. The first wildflowers I see are trailing arbutus, on the previously mentioned Grassy Pond trail, usually at the end of April. However, I came across them in November, on a trail alongside the St. Regis River, and some had been tricked into blooming by the warm fall. The second week in June has always been the prime time to find the beautiful pink lady’s slippers blooming in dry, sandy pine forests. I usually lead a hike I call the 1,000 Lady’s Slippers Hike because I can literally take people on a 3 mile round trip and show them more than a 1,000 of the pink flowers in bloom. Accompanied by at least a 1000 times that many black flies. I wonder what this June will be like….
Photo: “Global Warming” by Adirondack Artists Guild member Valerie Patterson.