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The last ice storm of the year, just a few weeks ago, really did a number on the big poplars in the yard.
Coming up the narrow squiggle of the two-lane highway along the coast, I saw the damage in the birches first: branches canted down to the ground, gashes in the bark where branches had been torn away completely. The gashes weeping wet with birch sap; I can’t see them without imagining that they must hurt.
But I head up the narrow driveway to find it blocked halfway up, a branch as big around as my thigh shorn off one of the really big trees. Four more equally large branches on the roof of the shed, stacked up as if they were torn away like toppling dominos, the highest falling onto the one below, adding enough weight to break the one below off next, and on down the tree, which now has a gap in its canopy of branches all along one side.
Drag the fallen into a pile: small branches for the fire pit, and eventually, the large wood to be cut for the stove. It’s not so much cleaning up as postponing work; this is the spring equivalent of squaring up chairs around the dining room table before the dinner guests arrive.
In winter, snow curls up around the back door and freezes into a mound of ice. The wooden door, vertical boards with a structural backwards “Z” of bracing on the back, opens outwards, so the mound of ice adds forces the door isn’t designed to deal with. All three screws have popped out of the bottom hinge because of that, leaving the door swinging open and closed on one hinge. Three long deck screws will solve that problem; I use the coated ones that won’t rust.
Out in the vegetable garden, the soil is rich and wet and turns easily. Every year, there are fewer rocks to throw into the rockpile, but every year, there are rocks.
Flush the antifreeze out of the drain traps and the toilet. In winter, the heat’s only on when we’re there, and the quiet strength of ice will break all sorts of things you’d never imagine.
Get the broom and dustpan and collect the sow beetles that rolled onto their backs and died crossing the long deserts of downstairs wooden floors. Sow beetles; carpenters; builder-boats. They have many names, those grey articulated bugs that look like trilobites, but they die quickly when they set out on long journeys that dry them out. They apparently wear their wet lungs on their hind legs, too. Sweep carefully: they are already so desiccated that they break apart at the touch of the broom bristles.
Open all the interior doors, closed in winter to let you heat the place one chamber at a time as the stove comes to life. Everything in the pump room, the only room that’s heated all winter, has survived.
The stove gasket on the woodstove will have to be replaced and reglued. There’s paint on the rehung outside door to be touched up. One side of the house, the back, needs touching up as well. Looking closer, the top right corner of the eastern side also needs scraping and painting.
Out in the vegetable garden, the soil is rich and wet and turns easily. Every year, there are fewer rocks to throw into the rockpile, but every year, there are rocks. Check the apple trees for buds. Size up what kind of trailer you’ll need to haul away the siding and the old roofing from the shed roof we replaced last year. After hauling down the big poplar branches and seeing that the new roof is fine, I stand on the front corner and look through the gap in the trees towards the water.
The grasses are all yellow-brown, but green is coming.
Spring opens its arms.
Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 36 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org — Twitter: @wangersky.
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