MARCH HILL

words + photography TODD R. NELSON  |  painting REBEKAH RAYE

The wild things are on the move. Last night, while the full moon leered through the fir trees, I passed two skunks meandering on the verge of the road at dusk. At the Unitarian church in town, Larry Redman has set out the traps to try and relocate the amorous skunk pairs from beneath the parish hall—again. He gets $30 per skunk. One whiff suggests they are reluctant to be moved.

At 4 this morning my dogs raised a ruckus. Out on the front yard a fox was dancing beneath the sunflower seed feeder, digging for kernels. Or was he digging into the mice tunnels fanning out from the feeder drop zone? Was he desperately hungry, or jubilant at such easy pickings?

Friday was a snow day from school, and as I trudged through the heavy, wet snowfall out to the mailbox at mid-day and paused in the cold, I heard a most unexpected, unmistakable sound. From somewhere in the treetops a robin was singing. Hungry or jubilant? I listened intently for a few minutes. Sure enough, here on the second day of March, and the third snow day from school, with the winter storm warning not due to expire
for another few hours, a harbinger of spring had appeared. Later in the day, two more robins appeared on the feeder. Got worms? Too soon. Not for a while.

These ironic contrasts and tensions are what make March a “hill”—a season all its own, here in Maine. We’re counting down to spring, but trudging up through snow, then mud, then posted, frost-heaving roads, and sunnier but blustery days. Then, perhaps, it could even snow again, or the dread “wintery mix” the meteorologists use to hedge their forecasts. Then the sap starts to flow and the cold nights and warm days express sugar from trees—what alchemy. If we can make it to Maple Sunday at the end of the month, the nouveau syrup will be ready. Days of freezing and thawing will have done the job. And hidden beneath the snow cover, “The force that through the green fuse drives the flower,” as Dylan Thomas wrote, is driving the flower. Can forsythia be far behind?

March gnaws at us. And the March forest slowly relinquishes its grip on certain macabre winter artifacts. My dog, Gus, drags a deer leg from the cedar grove—a trophy melted out of a drift like the Neolithic hunter surfacing from the alpine glacier. Gus is loath to surrender the tasty limb. He growls. He means it. I back off. March is like that too.

We begin to feel spring’s struggle to arrive—or is that feeling really just the flexing of our own wild yearnings, still held in the traces of winter? We have an overriding sense of being between. We remain in the grip of Old Man Winter, even as a crazy, misguided robin catches an early flight home from somewhere southern and warm... where Orion is now heading for the summer—our summer, that is.

I brace stoically for March. On the other hand, I feel that my looking ahead, when it’s grounded in aspiration, pulls me forward. There’s a lot to do in March that makes us feel eager, and spreads creative energy and even momentum. March is full of new things to aspire to, rather than muddle through. The robins know that.

The school year has a way of layering and overlapping these cycles. At my school, we had a daily morning meeting. We did a daily count to mark our progress. It might go as follows: Today is the 110th day of school and the 75th day of winter. There are 15 days until the spring equinox, 65 more school days this year and 42 more weeks until the end of the school year. Thanks to the snow day, the last day of school will now be June 18—three days before the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. Yes, March is a countdown and a hill.

This ragged month will be over, though today it seems so stubbornly persistent. And then we’ll begin the next countdown—the 79 days until the start of the next school year. Once again, we’ll be living between school seasons, while savoring the height of the celestial one we’ll be in at the time. The new wild things will be on the move: baby skunks under the church and fox kits in my field. We too will be on the move, fulfilling warm summer aspirations and yearnings stirred in March. They tend to eclipse the muddy path it has taken to arrive. On March hill we earn our July meadow.

FAVORITE ...
Maine view? Down the bay from Fort Madison in Castine. 
Drink? Lipton British Blend tea. Every afternoon. 
Maine restaurant? Arborvine in Blue Hill. 
Place you've traveled to as an adult? Scotland. Dunnottar Castle, to be precise. 
Shoes? Blundstone. 
Way to relax? A walk to Till’s Point, looking for owls and bears.

Painting:
Traveling Associates, 2012, 24 x 36 inches
Mixed media, pastel, conte and watercolor on Arches hot pressed watercolor paper

Rebekah Raye is an artist and award-winning children’s book author and illustrator. Raye spends a good deal of her time looking for the wild in nature, which she expresses in her paintings and sculpture. rebekahraye.com

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