By Margo D. Beller
It was with some surprise that I opened my email the other day and found an announcement from Scherman Hoffman inviting visitors to its “morning walks” every Friday and Saturday from 8 am to 9 am.
The walks weren’t the surprise. Particularly during March and April – spring migration - I’ve struggled out of bed on many a Saturday morning over the years to drive to Hardscrabble Road to take these walks.
But the last time I was at Scherman Hoffman, director Mike Anderson was demonstrating how he rakes snow off the roof. The driveways were clear but the trails were not. Snow was deep and, thanks to ice from an earlier storm, solid. Many areas are still frozen – Swartswood Lake, for instance, where a March 15 nature walk had to be cancelled.
Still, at least in my town, in the last week there have been warm days that have taken most of the snow off my lawn and all of it off my roof. So the Scherman email reminded me that, yes, winter is starting to let go and spring – and the birds – will be returning.
I am sure that at first the spring “walks” will consist looking out the education center’s’ window at the feeders and then a trudge along the main driveway. This is not a bad way to look for birds. The conifer outside the education center has drawn red-breasted nuthatch, gold-crowned and ruby-crowned kinglets and, in season, warblers including the Cape May.
But later, whoever is leading the walks will lead us down to the Dogwood or Field Loop trail and that is likely when people will make the acquaintance of something my New England in-laws know well – Mud Season.
Ground that had been frozen and covered with several feet of snow becomes thawed, wet and spongy. Footing becomes treacherous, particularly on hills, and mud is everywhere. You’ll have it thick on your boots and kick it up on the back of your legs.
In New Jersey, Mud Season is usually relatively benign because we don’t get the amount of snow they get in some parts of New England. But this past winter has not been benign. In 20 years of living in New Jersey this winter has been the closest to what I have seen in my brother-in-law’s rural part of New Hampshire. Many of the roads there are packed dirt, and when Mud Season comes you have to learn a whole new way to drive.
I have only driven in New Hampshire’s March Mud Season once: What I learned was, when approaching a massive sea of mud you speed up, slam the car into first gear, hold the wheel tight and hope momentum carries you through the muck. My brother-in-law, the naturalist for one of the state’s leading nature organizations, extols Mud Season. It separates the men from the boys, the hardcore from the tenderfoot.
I don’t expect it to be that bad on the Scherman trails.
What I do expect is a slippery mess which I will try to ignore when, one Saturday morning, I see many early migrants – phoebes, black-throated green warblers (like the one pictured, which I photographed from the driveway), kinglets and perhaps a few bluebirds near the boxes and raptors soaring overhead. Insects will start swarming; tadpoles, snakes and amphibians will seemingly appear from nowhere; and flowers will begin to bud, then flower.
At that point the snow will seem like a distant, bad dream.