When I was 38 weeks pregnant with our second baby, Grace and I spent a gray February morning sinking paperwhite narcissus bulbs into bowls filled with small stones. “When the white flowers bloom,” I told Grace, “our baby will be here.”
By the time our baby was born the paperwhites had bloomed, withered, and been dumped in the compost. My due date was February 23; June was born on March 4.
And last week she turned two.
Last week June woke and Chris lifted her out of her crib and brought her into the dining room where Grace and I were waiting with candles and presents. We lit two candles on the birthday ring and we sang to her. She was delighted. So delighted, in fact, that we lit the candles again after she blew them out, and then again after that, for nearly an hour.
When we brought June home from the hospital there was more than two feet of snow on the ground. It snowed nearly every day of her first few weeks of life, and on the days it didn’t snow an icy rain fell, coating driveways and windshields and roads and making it all but impossible to get around. In March in the hills, it can seem like nothing is ever going to move again.
But things do move. The sap begins to run in the trees; the woodcocks return; the salamanders begin their nocturnal migrations. For years I couldn’t see these things, and so March was only snow and cold when I was so very tired of snow and cold. And March still is snow and cold, it is still the time when my children regularly eat macaroni and cheese while they watch multiple episodes of “Charlie and Lola.” It is still the time when I take too many trips to Target. But this year I can see what was once invisible. I see the buckets hanging from our neighbors’ trees and the more efficient plastic tubing that winds its way from tap to tap and I don’t just think of breakfast at the sugarhouse. I think of what is moving in those ancient trunks, and of the heat that is melting the snow in ever-widening circles around each one. For years I would look at March’s leafless trees and not be able to conjure a vision of green. Had they ever been anything but bare? But this year I can see the canopy as I drive on these rutted and muddy tree-lined roads. I can see the trees’ leaves and their shade, the same way that now I can see the little girl in June’s face when I catch a glimpse of her in the rearview mirror.
On Sunday morning we met our friends at a sugarhouse up the road. Families who tap trees spend most of March boiling sap in long shallow troughs called evaporators. It takes forty gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup, so in March these hills are filled with the smell of wood fires and boiling syrup. Many of the houses serve breakfast on weekend mornings, and we all make pilgrimages to our favorite houses to eat pancakes and waffles and corn fritters swimming in warm syrup. On Sunday I knew nearly every person in the sugarhouse. June sat on my lap for a while, and then when our pancakes arrived she walked around the long wooden table to sit with Chris. I watched as she took her first bite of deliciously not-whole grain pancake, and how quickly she raised her fork for another. After we ate I walked around the dining room to say hello to everyone, to hear about a calf that had been born the night before and a toddler who had walked the mile down the road to breakfast all by himself.
March is still brutal, but not the way it used to be. I realize now that so much of what was a struggle in these hills was a struggle because my babies were young, and I was so very tired. But I am not so tired anymore. And now what was once an unbearable month is tedious and long, but I can bear it.
Because if the baby that was never, ever going to come just turned two, well then, certainly spring will be here soon.