April in Vermont

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(Host) As May begins, Commentator Tom Slayton joins us with some thoughts on the strange and varied weather we experienced this past April.

(Slayton) T.S. Eliot once wrote of April as “the cruelest month,” because of its everlasting habit of “mixing memory and desire…breeding lilacs out of the dead land.” In other words, April dangles the enticing possibility of spring in front of us, while winter still has one hand on our throat.

Even though Eliot was writing about April in England and didn’t mention the opening day of trout fishing, this year I’m willing to grant him the benefit of most of the doubt. April in Vermont may not be the cruelest month – I’ve always felt January won in the cruelty sweepstakes – but it is quite often the wildest month. Consider that in the last two weeks or so we’ve gone from 90-degree heat to rain mixed with snow, hail, sleet, and windy gray skies ¿ from sunglasses and shorts (in other words) to classic hypothermia weather.

But last Saturday emerged as a moment of meteorological grace ¿ the perfect spring day, sunny and mild. At Herrick’s Cove on the Connecticut River, the first wave of warblers was passing through, right on schedule. A small flock of maybe ten yellow-rumped warblers flitted from tree to tree, perfectly natty in their tailored-looking grey and black and yellow finery. They hawked about, grabbing the season’s first black flies and chattered their bubbly, high-pitched song, filling the little park near the cove with life.

We never saw the red-necked grebes that had been reported at the Cove earlier in the week, but a palm warbler made up for their absence by hopping fearlessly out onto a bare branch not ten feet from us. The sun made his gold breast and rusty cape fairly glow and he wore his little brown cap at a jaunty angle. There were hawks and osprey and woodpeckers as well, a Savannah sparrow and somewhere in the underbrush, the season’s first catbird was gurgling and mewing. A tiny ruby-crowned kinglet flashed his bright red crown, filling my binoculars in an instant with warmth.

But then came Sunday, rainy and cold, and Monday, coated with slimy spring snow that seemed to leach all the new spring color out of everything, and I remembered that this was, after all, April in Vermont, and got ready to go to work.

Actually, I don’t think of April as a cruel month at all. True, the robins this morning looked like they were about to put a gun to their little heads as they contemplated the fresh snow. But they kept up work on their nest anyway. And the snow hasn’t discouraged the hepaticas and bloodroot and spring beauties – the most delicate wildflowers of early spring. They shiver in the April breezes and bow to the sodden April snows, but open again when the sun shines, welcoming these early days with an innocence and faith we all could envy.

Despite the fickle weather, these woodland wildflowers, the first of the year, are blooming again, just about exactly the same week they bloomed last year and the year before that. They are reticent and subtly beautiful and persistent and strong. Just like Vermonters, actually; just like April in Vermont.

Tom Slayton lives in Montpelier and is the editor of Vermont Life Magazine.

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