Spring can be slow to show itself in these parts. As my bulbs remain buried under a foot of snow, it can be challenging to determine if its December or April. One of the few signs is a bit more light at the end of the day (a lifesaver with small children who crave being outside). There are also seasonal rituals to help mark the onset of spring. Tapping Sugar Maples is one sure sign. Any drive along a rural road in Maine this time of year will reveal slate gray metal buckets fastened to trees, getting heavy with the slow drip of clear, runny sap. It takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup. Think about that the next time you balk at real Maple syrup prices. Trust me, it is worth it. Besides, once you taste this stuff, you can never go back to "maple flavored" syrup, whatever that is.
Mainers celebrate this time of year with a state-wide "Maine Maple Sunday" where sugar shacks across the state open their doors to sample a litany of Maple-ly concoctions. Eating local this time of year is sheer, sugary fun: maple syrup & pancakes with maple sausage, maple ice cream, maple popcorn, maple doughnuts, maple baked beans, maple butter, maple candy, you name it. My boys ate it. And after they got all sticky with maple goodness, we tossed them in the car and sang songs all the way home, because they sure weren't going to nap.
Another spring rite of passage is sheep shearing. We gathered around our neighbor's gentle sheep to watch as their thick, musky fleece got shorn off in one, large mat. The sheep were surprisingly docile once they were off their feet. Their mates still garbed in their winter coats would sniff the newly shorn sheep with interest and even tussled a bit, as if the shorn sheep was a completely different animal. I remember getting my hair cut short once, my husband had much the same reaction. It's amazing what a haircut can do. But as I sit here and watch an endless pile of snow drop from the sky, I imagine those sheep are thinking that someone misread the calendar.