Monday, January 29, 2024

The groundhog knows...


St. Bridget of Ireland

I took a stroll around my garden this weekend. With the warmer temperatures and bouts of rain, winter just took a short recess. There are always those early, early signs of spring that cheer us on. My daffodils are up a couple of inches. Some of them are just peering out from under the bits of snow. Other shoots are sturdy and strong defying the end of January. The chives are just barely uncurling in this January thaw; even enough to cut a handful by the end of the week. It is early for all these signs of spring. I always worry about the daffodils and other plants that appear before it is time. I try to whisper to them to just curl back up and sleep for a bit longer. “Your time will come,” I say to them.

Not only are the daffodils a bit early, but Nate, our neighborhood “let’s go tap our trees” guy, was out tapping trees this weekend. He knocked on my door asking if I was ready to tap. I really was not ready for this event to start. I mean, once these trees are tapped, there is no going back. Nate tapped my trees for me this weekend, and so the show does go on. Today I find myself pulling out my wagon, washing out the buckets, checking on my enamel pots and making sure the candy thermometer is on hand. I love gathering sap and boiling it down in my kitchen! My house is always full of humidity and smells so sweet, but was I ready for this? I made a joke to Kathy that I was not emotionally ready to tap. That sounds so strange when writing it, but it is true. However, after today, I will be ready and for the next six weeks, I will be trudging up and down the street with my wagon replacing buckets and bringing home the sap. Last year I had a record crop (okay, I have only done this for two years), and I still have a quart left. I love looking at that jar in my cool, dark cupboard. The color is amber and full of last year’s February sunshine.

With these signs of spring comes February 2nd which is Candlemas and Groundhog Day. It is also the cross-quarter day between winter and spring! We all know the story of the groundhog and his shadow! This is part of our modern culture, but it dates to ancient times. A European folklore belief is if the weather is fine on February 2nd, more winter is coming! Another folklore states that if the dikes are overflowing, spring will make an early arrival. The most well-known lore comes from the ancient Irish. On February 1st they summon the goddess of fire and call to her to bring spring to the land. This Celtic goddess was known as St. Brigit. She was known as the goddess of fertility and everything in the household…including chores and children. Three thousand years ago in Ireland, fires and candles lit the way during the first of February to frighten away the winter and the evil spirits that go with it.

We do not think much about goddesses or ancient times. No, our lives are too busy, too on-task, but isn’t it nice to stop for a moment to ponder these old customs and folklore? No, all we get is a groundhog, but we have fun with that. I must laugh as I write, no matter what the groundhog sees or does not see, winter is here for six more weeks.

As for me, winter goes by quickly. I simply never run out of things to do, and winter is no exception. There are candles to light, stories to tell, books to read and soup to simmer. There have been hockey games with Jonah, ukulele practice with Carolyn, rehearsals to attend and now, of course, thanks to Nate and our neighborhood, there are buckets full of sap to carry home and boil down.

In between the light and dark, there are letters to write and a campfire or two to dissipate the darkness and the spell of winter. Who does not love getting a hand-written note or letter or sitting by a neighborhood campfire to watch the stars come out. Do not forget to plot out your garden, order your seeds, and start them in your house!

Winter is still here, and with a groundhog keeping guard, only six more weeks!

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