Spring has finally arrived here in the Pioneer Valley. Hooray! I"ve begun my spring yard work — trimming bushes and picking up branches that came off our birch tree during the windy winter. The next step is raking, but it's far too windy for that today. So, I sit here with my window open, breathing in deep breaths of fresh air. Is there anything more divine that the smell of fresh spring air? The grass is turning green, the birds are singing sweetly, and the sun is casting long shadows in the early evening.
I was thinking today about how each spring in my childhood signaled the beginning of outdoor work when I was a child. I remembered that I had written a blog post several years ago about this. I found it in April 2010 and I'm re-posting it.
It’s spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want – oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so! ~Mark Twain
I love this quote; it is so true — about what to cook in the transition between winter and summer food; about clothing, when you don’t know if you’ll be sorry for what you are wearing, ’cause if you decide to wear something warm, you will be sure to roast later that day, or if you wear something summery, you might freeze your toes off; and about life in general because spring inspires you to live life to the fullest. But what does that mean to live life to the fullest — do you buy that Mustang you always wanted to own, or do you take up a new hobby such as learning to braid rugs, do you travel to someplace new in the world you’ve always wanted to visit, or do you grab some other opportunity that comes your way — perhaps something you hadn’t ever thought of before?
As I was gardening this afternoon, I realized I have the luxury of contemplating what living life to the fullest means to me. When I was growing up, I didn’t have the time nor the energy to do so. From mid-February when we started the sugaring process (see my earlier posts about tapping trees and making maple syrup) to the time the garden was planted, our days were full of activities. As soon as the buds came out on the maples, we were done sugaring. We would gather up the sap buckets, clean them, and store them in the sugar house until next season.
After sugaring it was time to dig up the parsnips and vegetable oysters (salsify) that had been in the ground all winter. We loved when Mem cooked up parsnips with new potatoes in big chunks, then when they were nearly soft, she would brown them in butter, salt, and pepper. Yum — after living on canned goods all winter, it sure was a treat to have something fresh.
As soon as the garden was dry enough to plow, Datt would spread manure on the garden, then plow it under. He would then till the soil and use a “drag” to break up the clods of dirt. Our garden was huge, and it had very different soil on one end than it did on the other. One end was nice and fine, the other seemed to always have clods, no matter how much we worked the soil.
Peas were always the first thing to be planted, followed closely by lettuce, radishes, and beans. We used a string between two poles to mark the rows, so they would be somewhat straight. We worked our way north until the whole garden was planted, over a matter of several weeks, or perhaps a month.
About the time of the early plantings, our new baby chicks would arrive in the mail. We used to get 100 of them each year. They came newly hatched, so they were yellow, soft, and downy. We would have their new home ready for them when they came. It was a little “brooder house” that looked much like a cold frame, with a cover over the top to keep them warm at night. We had an oil lantern in a little cabinet under the brooder, which kept the brooder warm. Sometimes we would end up with a cold snap after the peeps arrived. My sister, Sarah, remembers more details about this than I do. She helped Mem care for the baby chicks quite a bit, including getting up in the night to refill the oil lantern. To keep the brooder clean, we would layer the bottom of the brooder with newspapers, and as they got soiled, we rolled up one layer at a time and disposed of it, leaving a clean, fresh layer for the peeps to walk on.
Baby chicks grow up fast. They don’t stay downy for more than a few days when they start getting their first feathers. About the time they looked a little shaggy, the brooder started getting crowded. Then it was time to prepare the “pullet house.” (Pullets are no longer chicks, but not yet chickens — like adolescent chickens.) After their stint in the pullet house, they would graduate to the chicken house.
In addition to all the outdoor activities, we would also be spring cleaning the house. We would wash the walls or paint them as needed, take out all the mattresses and pound them with a broom, air out the pillows, take down the curtains and wash and iron them, wash the windows, clean out all the drawers, clean the furniture, clean all the woodwork, floors, kitchen cabinets, and finally put back the clean and freshly ironed curtains, and lay the clean woven rugs back on the floors. It was as if we were sweeping out the winter and letting in the fresh, new spring air.
Call it Amish spring fever.
Happy Spring to everyone. May you be able to find whatever it is you long for. I'll let you know when I do!