Friday, March 7, 2014

the numbers

We have enjoyed the snow pants off of all that this serious winter has provided.  There has been more cold, more snow, more ice, more sledding and skiing and skating than ever.  So this winter -- and the Lego Movie -- have been epic.

But it's March.  It's that time of year when you find yourself excited because today you get to wear your less pilly woolen leggings.  Or you spend time deciding whether it is worth replacing the threadbare knees on the kids' snow pants before mud season.   

As an indication that the snow is eliciting more of a sigh and hope for a thaw, one of our dogs marked the tipping over encrusted in ice snowman as his. Ahem.  We either need more snow to pretty things up or a thaw.

Just yesterday, walking to the school playground to pick up our kids, everyone was saying, It's so warm out here.  We turned our faces toward the sun and closed our eyes and smiled.  I thought of the scenes from M*A*S*H in which the nurses and doctors sat outside in their chairs, bombs exploding in the background, with metal sheets and pans under their chins, trying to soak a bit of Vitamin D and color out of the barren combat zone.

It was, according to my Subaru's thermometer, 39 degrees.

What a difference a few degrees can make.  It does not take much to get us excited about the warmth and light to come.

A few years back when our kids were really little, we were invited to a seemingly strange party around this time of year.  It was a Groundhog's day party.  How strange, I thought.  When I saw the mother who had sent out the invitations in the neighborhood, she explained.  My daughter just couldn't believe there were no more winter holidays to celebrate.  Easter just seemed too far away for her.  Plus?  I am tired of pushing strollers around in the snowbanks.  I need a fun inside activity afternoon.

And it was a fabulous party.  We played pin the shadow on the groundhog, ate cupcakes and their shadow cookies, and the moms all sat in the kitchen and cupped tea in our hands, warm air wafting into our faces, looking pale and dry skinned, while the kids ran in crazy circles in the living room.

March.  I think maybe the balance has tipped from enjoyment of, to being just a little bit ready for the next season to begin.  And you find reasons to celebrate what you can.  There is a lot of counting that begins to happen around now.  I think it has something to do with the shifting balance, feeling that we are closer to the end than the beginning.  How many days left until Spring?  Checking the temperature in degrees.  Calculating when seedlings should be begun inside.  Assessing what more we need of equipment and chickens and hives and tools to have enough for the coming summer.

At school, the kids celebrated the 100th day.


Elliott's class invented contraptions using scraps from the recycling bin to create prototypes for inventions that have something to do with counting.  Elliott's came home today.





It is a snowflake counter, of course. The polar bear sitting on top, lives in the box.




He plays the piano.  By candlelight.


And counts snowflakes, tucking them down into the container below.



He has a very nice life.  He is a romantic fellow.

Another celebration of numbers this time of year?  Enter Pi Day, stage left.  At dinner last night, Julia was thinking through what she was going to do for her project for Pi Day next week.  We were thinking a lot about numbers, and trying to convince her to show her cleverly hilarious and quirky little brain off a bit, instead of the informational poster about how you calculate Pi idea that she was trying to sell us.

She came up with a really good and just right for her idea.  I am not allowed to tell you.  Until 3/15.  Mark your calendars.

Just today I planned to go down to the hives to feed them some candy.  And I have decided to wait until tomorrow, because the temperature, according to my house thermometer, is 48 degrees.  That must be in the sun.  But, I don't want to kill any of the precious bees I have left, and will therefore wait until a cooler day, or at least until later today, when they will be in a tighter cluster and less likely to fly out at me.  It's all about the numbers.

But I see mud.  And grass, dead and crispy, but grass nonetheless on the edges of walkways.


 And the consistency of the snow is changing.  Families further inland are beginning to tap their maples.  It is coming.  Is it too soon here?  A quick check of my weather app indicates that we have a warm spell coming for the next few days.  I don't know why, but despite my feeling of being ready for a change of season, Maple Syrup time seems to surprise me every year.

Which has me thumbing through my favorite maple syrup reference, both for its information, and for the author's voice, a voice that comes through so very clearly in his writing and therefore has become the voice of a companion during maple syrup season.
Maybe it's the time of year -- the warm sun climbing higher into the sky, warming the back after a long winter, turning the snow into piles of white corn, turning the brooks from trickles to torrents, starting the maple sap flowing -- a sort of hint of the spring and Summer lying ahead. Maybe it's the drip drip of sap falling into buckets, the telltale aroma of boiling sap or the hissing sound of sap in a rolling boil. Maybe it's simple the magic of converting sweet water, as the Indians used to call it, to delicious Holden syrup.  But whatever it is, it's there.  
Mix the magic with a liberal dose of ingenuity, mechanical innovation and the determination to make do with materials on hand, and you come up with what this book is about, backyard sugarin'.  In one fell swoop you can satisfy your creative instincts, indulge yourself in a mystical experience and fill the pantry shelves with a product that the whole family can enjoy at a fraction of its usual cost.
from Backyard Sugarin', by Rink Mann

And now, a whole new kind of counting has begun.  Cleaning and counting buckets and covers and taps and trees.








Watching for days of temperatures above freezing during the day and below freezing at night.  When the time is right, we will be listening to the drip drip drip in the metal buckets, as though the trees are counting themselves.  Counting how many jugs we can fill of sap, and figuring how many gallons of sap will evaporate into the quart sized ball jars of syrup.  And just how few and precious the days are that this season, this transitional season, this new season, will have.

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