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Life in New England
March Reflections...of New England
by Stephen Altschuler

With the coming of March, my mind languished either in the future, dreaming
of blossoming leaves and shoots of peas and wild trillium on the woodland
floor, or in the past, licking my wounds of the winter and marveling that I
made it through in pretty good shape.  

March epitomized such thinking.  In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if Julius
Caesar got so caught up in the reveries of spring that he thought Brutus was
coming by to borrow a cup of sugar.  

So instead of being beware of the Ides of March, I tried to be aware of March's
subtle yet wondrous transitions.  As November cowered at the gateway of the
long, droning winter—a kind of Charon at the river Styx—March mirrored
Icarus, rising high toward the spring sun, too confident, until its waxed wings
melted and it plummeted to earth as a fresh winter storm or cold spell -- a
plunge that caught me and my wood supply off guard.  "I've got more than
enough wood," I said to myself at the beginning of the month.  But each day of
sub-freezing, windswept, and sometimes snowy weather withered my pile
dangerously low.  

In New Hampshire, March is Still Winter

In New Hampshire, folks branded March a winter month, yet the lifeblood of
spring began to flow.  As the days warmed, the maple sap rose in the
awakening trees.  The snow cover, which seemed as if it would last until June,
began to recede --slow, recalcitrant.  A day with the temperature in the fifties,
the next, winter again -- a storm, a cold penetrating wind, made even colder by
the brief offerings of warmth and the way it tricked the mind into complacence.  
Yet the signs accented the coming change -- the longer days, the copious flow
of maple sap, and the way that sap turned milky when the buds were pregnant
with leaf blossoms.  

The forest seemed to bristle with more activity.  Small animals, as evidenced by
their tracks, crisscrossed, like busy shoppers, from tree to tree.  More birds
paused from their intense business of winter survival to sing a few notes of
springtime exultation.  March was the herald of salvation for the forest.  All
around, trees stood winter-weary, rocked and buffeted and battered by the
three furies: December, January, and February.  

Some were down and gone, sacrifices to the nature spirits.  Others stood
scarred and limbless, creaking Waltzing Matilda as the cold March winds
bullied them, emulating the power of January -- a power forever denied March
by the higher and longer course of the sun.  The equinox neared, and the
thought of it sustained me through this ephemeral late winter.  For, like the
trees, my veneer had been worn thin by violent winter winds and weather.   

Yet also like the majority of trees, my core was intact and strengthened by this
winter experienced and survived.  I emerged from the battle triumphant and, in
the struggling, knew more of me -- my resilience, my fears, my capacities, my

Yet, as my internal conflict of opposites continued, March lingered incomplete,
unfinished, a Panmunjom among months.  Love, hate, open, closed, sad, joy,
heart, head, fear, peace—opposites that March reflected.  

For like no other month, March signaled an end and a beginning.  It was the
death of winter and the conception of spring.  It was a depleted woodpile and a
plan for the garden.  In March thoughts turned away from the tempered-steel
winter toward the butterfly spring.  Yet March bent like an apple branch,
springy and whippy, then snapped--an exaggerated blast of cold and storm if
you let your mind get too far ahead.  

But on the ends of the windblown branches of this wild month, buds clung
poised and ready to pirouette when the curtain rose.  And with March, the
crowd stirred and the show began.

About the author:

This story is excerpted from Sacred Paths and Muddy Places: Rediscovery Spirit in
(Stillpoint, 1993) by Stephen Altschuler which detailed his 4-year stay in
a New Hampshire cabin.  Stephen has more recently written
The Mindful Hiker:
On the Trail to Find the Path
(DeVorss, 2004). Click here to visit his website:
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