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The Five Seasons of Maine

“Spring begins in March,” I remember writing, back when I was seven or thereabouts. “Some people think it begins in April, but it’s really March.”
I’m not really sure who the “some people” were—any more than I can remember why my first- or second-grade teachers handed us the large booklets of sketching paper on which I recorded my observations on the change of the seasons. It may have been only me, rather than my classmates, who thought that Spring began in April, until revelation from a calendar or a teacher informed me otherwise. But in any case, I had cause to be confused. For I grew up in Maine, and northern Maine does not have a spring.

I never realized that there was no spring in Maine until later, after I’d spent a year in England. In old England, Spring is a major event, as I’m reminded every time I talk to my mother, who now lives in York. The weather is mild, the daffodils come up through the grass, the trees leaf out in a leisurely fashion. It is a distinct and distinctive.
But in northern Maine, there is no spring. After summer comes fall, and after fall comes winter—real winter, which England scarcely knows. But after Winter comes, not Spring, but Mud. Those who doubt that Mud is a time, as well as a substance, have never tried to drive in northern New England in late March and April. Mud is when the snows melt, and the rains fall on earth that is still frozen a few inches down, so that it turns those top few inches into—well, mud—before creating a lake in your backyard. Or else it melts and rains on top of frozen snow, and little rivers run over the top, like water on a glacier. But sooner or later, these little rivers will hit a patch of clear ground, or a drift of the sand spread by the plows over the winter, and suddenly you have ankle-deep slurry.
And meantime, the roads suddenly sprout a fresh crop of potholes, and the streams flood, and the rivers flood (sometimes catastrophically); and the forest becomes a marsh, and your lawn becomes a quagmire. Nor is the process constant: there will be cold snaps, and freak snowstorms, so that it may feel like April one day, but you’ll be back in January the next. In sheltered flowerbeds by the side of houses, the crocuses poke their heads out of soil, in Easter purple and white and gold; but anything else pointed to as a sign of spring is manmade: the day when mothers pack the snowpants into the drawer for another year, or your neighbor taking the cover off his boat.
Oh, there will be days of bright sun, and crisp breezes, and budding flowers, when you say “This is Spring.” But that doesn’t count as a season. Mud lasts until mid-April, when the last of the snow disappears. It’s wet, it’s messy, and unless you're a kid (of whatever age) who likes building canals and dams between the puddles, it’s frankly miserable.

From about mid-April, the snows are gone, and the grass grows, and the flowers bloom, and the trees bud. But it’s not Spring either. First of all, it happens too fast. The growing season is all too short in my northern homeland, so “earth goes through her changes” at a precipitous pace. Everything blooms at once, in a hurry. Then, too, it’s not Spring weather. You go in under a week, or so it seems, from freezing nights to days nearing 70, when it feels downright hot as the sun beats down on the still-damp patches where the last snowdrifts vanished, only days ago. But the most important reason why this is not Spring is that it’s now

Blackfly.

The Blackfly, for those of you fortunate enough not to have made it’s acquaintance, is a truly evil little insect. True, the mosquito is more annoying, with its persistent evasions as it buzzes around your ears. The blackfly is more direct. The blackfly simply flies up to you and takes a bite out of you, and it hurts like a MoFo. I mean, it’s not nearly in being-stung-by-a-bee territory, but it’s not fun. And they hatch at the first warm weather, and suddenly there are swarms of them, and you swat them, getting two and three at a time, and you still get bitten.
The earliest inhabitants of Maine, the Red Paint people, used to go down to the coast every summer. (Many of there successors still do this, oddly). Early archaeologists thought that this was to take advantage of fish spawning. Modern archaeologists think it may have been just to get away from the black flies, during the season of Blackfly.
Blackfly season lasts until some time in June or July—sometimes later at higher elevations, as I know to my cost. In between, they dominate life outdoors, more even than the weather or the salmon run or the Red Sox. And by the time the black flies have disappeared in the growing clouds of mosquitoes, the trees have finished leafing out, school’s over for the summer, and any possibility of Spring is long gone.
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