Spring, as I’ve said before, is a slow unfolding up here in the mountains of central Colorado: the season isn’t to be rushed. But eventually the days lengthen and long-dormant plants emerge. Among the first of these are rough cinquefoil, dark clustered leaves scattered like green pawprints through the dead grass, the silver-brown thatch of which will only later be later pierced by fine needles of new growth. The bluebirds show up and leave, show up and leave, and finally show up to stay, along with the wrens and the spotted towhees and Say’s phoebes. Sooner or later, I’ll be startled by what appears to be a cocktail garnish whisking between pine trees, but it’s a Western tanager, his head maraschino red atop his lemon-yellow body.
I start reaching for a brimmed hat rather than the wooly knit cap. More days than not, I put on barn shoes instead of snowboots, and contemplate throwing the latter into the back of the closet for the season. Some days, I’ll step outside before deciding: lightweight jacket or winter barn coat? After a long season of daily wear, said coat needs washing; it’s grungy with mud and horse slobber, fuzzed with shed horsehair, each pocket loaded with a few ounces of hay dust.
I need to wash the grime of blizzard schmutz off the windows, too, and clean the fireplace. We’re ready to take a break from hauling firewood and splitting kindling. For a few months, we can leave off the afternoon ritual of lighting a fire against the early dark and settling cold….
For a month now, whenever I think I’ve lit the last fire, the little raindrop icons on the extended weather forecast morph into snowflakes as the projected temperatures drop. The National Weather Service keeps authorizing my procrastination, justifying my avoidance of cleaning out ashes and scrubbing at sooty fireplace doors.
I wasn’t surprised when we woke up on the last day of April with a half-foot of snow on the ground. Our April showers usually fall as the white stuff. There’s always a chance of a late-season blizzard, but the ground has warmed up enough that such snow starts melting as soon as it falls, and the April close-out snow vanished into the ground within a day.
The weather warmed back up to rain-worthy temperatures for a week, but then dropped again on May 8th. The next day’s high was 31 degrees, with snow falling gently all day. I personally thought the winter reprise was a bit over the top, but at least I hadn’t already cleaned the fireplace. We were out of firewood at the house, but I scrounged the last split logs from down at the cabin, and built a fire.
A few days later, it was 70 degrees and the glories of spring had settled in (again). I thought about getting to work in the garden—and washing coats and cleaning the fireplace. Another weather system had appeared in the forecast, though, and I held off.
That storm materialized with slightly milder temperatures but it was still plenty cold enough to warrant a fire. I drove down to the neighbors’ house and filled the log bag from their well-stocked woodshed.* That storm dropped eight inches of snow, and when the sun came out the next day it was hard to tell which was happening faster: the snow melting or the grass growing.
The day after that, however, I woke to the gloom of a house engulfed by heavy fog. I kept expecting it to burn off, but when I went for a walk after lunch I encountered a bitter wind blowing up from the south. The fine mist in the air froze onto everything it hit, glazing fence wire and gates and powerlines and individual blades of grass in clear ice. Pine boughs that might have waved in the stiff breeze merely rocked up and down, the trees creaking under the weight with a crinkly sound like cellophane being crumpled. I cut my walk short and hustled back to the house, where there was just enough wood left for the evening’s fire.
Another week of spring followed. Out walking, I found blooming cacti and sweet starbursts of mat daisies instead of icy sculpture. Then, on the 29th, the forecast again switched from rain to snow. As I headed down the driveway to feed the horses late that afternoon, a brusque wind smacked me in the face with fat heavy snowflakes. I had put on my coat but not the snowboots; my shoes and socks were quickly soaked. The horses, even wetter and colder than me, were outraged and belligerent. When I got back to the house, blobs of slush splatted onto the floor from my hat and stinking, sodden barn coat.
I disassembled to the shelf of scrap lumber we’d laid across the rails of the wood rack in the garage to catch flakes of pine bark, and built a fire with the planks. When we went to bed, there were a few boards left; just enough, perhaps, for one last fire.
*This lifting of the neighbors’ wood is authorized: we help with the splitting, and since they don’t overwinter, their stock runs down slower than ours.