Maine spring is an intertidal zone, a slow, ragged exposure of winter’s ravages on the way to summer’s fruitfulness and bounty. It is a persistent skirmish between freezing and thawing, hibernation and new birth, torpor and explosive flowering, migration and returns of all kinds. Grumpy bears come out of their dens with new cubs to feed; the peepers and vernal pools evanesce; flowers and berries prepare to nourish. We are betwixt and between and migrating. Cold recedes; warmth timidly floods in. Spring is full of becoming, and we too are its creatures.
Some weeks we feel like mollusks exposed in tidal mud, enticed by brief exposure to stronger sun and milder air. We poke our siphons out of the shell and take a whiff. It’s usually a toss-up: Retreating is just as promising as stepping up and out. It’s not the first time spring will beguile us. Spring is always a tease. Because she can be: She has what we desperately want.
My favorite spring motif is the running of the alewives upstream back to their spawning waters. In May, they arrive in Mill Brook, which meanders from Pierce Pond to the tidal northern bay of the Bagaduce River, then down to the mouth of the Penobscot River. They are swimming through a long, shallow gauntlet from their saltwater winter haunts back to freshwater to lay their eggs, as they have done for thousands of years. At one time, most Maine rivers had alewife runs.
Mill Brook has a new fish ladder that eases their return. Some of the alewives have been at sea for a couple of years. It’s a big debut. The locals have taken an interest in the anadromous species—giving them a leg up to keep their love life going. It doesn’t help with the bald eagles, however, perched overhead stream-side. It’s a hundred-yard-long buffet. Fast food. I’ve counted upwards of a dozen eagles at a time, just waiting for the tide to bring alewives into easy reach. Easy pickings. Meal time. Diner’s open. Death from above.
Some days I am the alewife. Some days I am the eagle. I too am swimming upstream toward summer, hiding amidst my brethren, borne back ceaselessly into winter. Or worse: snagged in the talons of a late frost. When I am the eagle, I am an apex predator swooping on any spring opportunity to gorge—on sun, fecundity, breeding, blossoming. Humans too want actual alewives to smoke, in time-honored tradition. As local author Cherie Mason explained it, “Everybody is somebody’s lunch.” Except the eagles. They are no longer an endangered species. I feel I am, if I don’t make it to June. I’ve made it past April. May will not snack on me.
We are almost to the fish ladder, to the pond, to warm freshwater. Winter’s predation wanes. Love stories abound. The vernal pool, the tottering bear cub or fox kit, the tree frogs, even black flies augur better times—respite from cold, dark, isolation and lockdown. The furnace is done; the snowplow man will not be back; winter’s final bills can be safely paid. The remaining woodpile now becomes a carryover to next year’s heating season. Even the chores of summer, for the time being, are a celebration and glad reunion. Nothing like that first grass cutting on the riding mower, and turning over the garden. By the end of the month—not too soon… wait for that final May full moon—we might even think about putting the tomato plants into the ground. Always a fickle prospect here in Maine, where we can barely eke out a true vine-ripened salad by August.
A chain of blossoming commences. Lupines for June graduations, raspberries not far behind, blackberries then blueberries. The freezer stockpile will be evenly divided between fresh and future pies and shortcake. Summer is about dessert calories. The takeout stand will open for Memorial Day, inaugurating cone season. “Maine’s best….” signs abound: lobster and crab rolls, onion rings, pie—we’ve been waiting ever since Labor Day. Gotta dine at the picnic table beside saltwater or it just doesn’t count. We eagles savor onion rings too.
We return, we return. We are back. Hunkering down is over. Like the mummer motif of ancient villages, we twirl our ribbons and sing the old songs. Mine goes like this:
“sweet spring is your
time is my time is our
time for springtime is lovetime
and viva sweet love”
— e.e. cummings
Yes, we too may originate in the sea; we too may return to its metaphoric embrace—winter. But the vernal tides also toss us up the pebbled shore toward summer on land to find love in the sweet, fresh pond of June.
Todd R. Nelson, a retired educator, lives and writes in Penobscot.
Maine view? Down the bay from Fort Madison in Castine.
Drink? Lipton British Blend tea. Every afternoon.
Maine restaurant? Arborvine in Blue Hill.
Place you've traveled to as an adult? Scotland. Dunnottar Castle, to be precise.
Way to relax? A walk to Till’s Point, looking for owls and bears.
Blues, 2019, 40 x 40 inches, oil on canvas
Hannah Bureau was born in Paris and moved to the U.S. when she was eight. The child of an architect and a painter, Hannah is the third generation of artists and female painters in her family. She generally paints from memory, and while her productions range from pure landscape to pure abstraction, most fall in-between. “My paintings are just at the intersection of landscape and abstraction,” she explains. “I am interested in creating space and distance that feels like the familiar world around us but is also ambiguous, general, and abstracted.” Bureau is a graduate of The Rhode Island School of Design, BFA and Massachusetts College of Art and Design, MFA. She has studied with many renowned contemporary American artists such as Eric Aho and Jon Imber.