Arts and Culture
Food and Wine
People and Places
Science and Nature
Travel and Lodging
New Hampshire
Rhode Island
Home » PEOPLE AND PLACES in ME » MAINE (all topics) » The Other Maine
A Herb Garden of tasty oregano, basil, cilantro and chamomile is awaiting warmer weather to be planted outside
The Other Maine

Pushing Forth into Spring

By Alex Seise | May 23, 2011

Previous Article in this Series

As I hooked the final hanging geranium on the porch rafters, a familiar figure across the street caught my eye.

It was my neighbor, Claudette, who was standing on her side porch smiling and flashing a thumbs-up sign in my direction. Still grinning, she called across, “They look great… But I wouldn’t leave them out overnight just yet!”

Bursting Buds on a Small Bush in the Woods

The date was May 15 to be precise. Back in New Jersey, it would have been prime time to visit warm beaches one last time before the summer surge swallowed them up. In Madawaska, Maine, we were expecting a nighttime frost.

But despite the slow start, spring is starting to sink in across Aroostook County. The gray hills are popping with lush green buds as the deciduous trees rejoin their colorful evergreen cousins. Even the pines—which, true to form, remained a dark green hue all winter—have slipped into a slightly more vibrant coat ever since the last bits of snow melted a few weeks ago.

Fortunately, this year wasn’t one of record snowfall for Maine. Local rivers swelled with springtime vigor but not dangerously so. Apart from localized flooding, the thaw was relatively uneventful. Even mud season, which friends warned would be a truly unforgettable experience, was nothing that a welcome mat and carwash couldn’t handle. It seems that Mother Nature smiled upon the region; though winter was long, it was hardly unbearable and left few lingering headaches.

But the real amazement of early spring in Northern Maine isn’t found in the trees, rivers or mud. It’s a phenomenon that takes place underfoot amongst the brush where myriad of plants nuzzle their ways through the cool soil and push forth shoots. The vigor of these fresh stems and leaves is breathtaking; their hardiness is legendary. Despite temperatures dipping well below 0-degrees Fahrenheit for stretches at a time, the brush of the County has miraculously survived yet another winter and is beginning to stake its spot in the landscape. Along the hillsides, wildflowers and green blades of grass become tangled with the burrs and brown brush. As the debris of last year blows away and rots, the new vegetation will take its place for a few months before succumbing to a similar fate.

Along the riverbanks, something else stirs amid fallen leaves and brown overgrowth. It is a delicacy that unfolds quite literally before foragers’ eyes. Fiddlehead ferns rise through the soil from their underground rhizomes, unfurling just enough to tempt gourmands with a flash of lacy greenery.

Plucked Fiddleheads

For a brief period of time each spring, locals plunder the woods around riverbanks in search of these treats, carefully plucking them one by one along their stems. After numerous soakings and washings, the curls are boiled, steamed or sautéed and served alongside hearty Acadian dishes with a dollop of butter or crumbles of bacon.

Their taste is reminiscent of a delicate asparagus with a terrific leafy flavor and no perceivable bitterness, a mouthwatering side that heralds spring. But as a reminder of spring’s rapid passing, the fiddleheads, too, are a fleeting joy. Not more than a week or two after sprouting, the fronds fully unfurl, taking with them a riverside treat that won’t be seen again for another year.

The wild growth is a spectacle to behold. But even tame gardens that take root in the spring are fascinatingly distinct from their southern cousins.

In March, the long winter finally tickled David and I to try our hand at gardening. Like most neighbors, we started inside. One day in late April during a get-together with friends, we proudly stated that we’d attempt to plant the seedlings outdoors the following weekend. Without missing a beat, they informed us that it wouldn’t be a wise choice to jump the gun: frosts, after all, take place as late as the first week of June. Fortunately, a sunny room has kept the trays and pots of seedlings alive and well as we’ve waited for the icy grip to dissipate.

Despite the chilly weather, though, there is still warmth in the Other Maine. During a relatively warm day a few weeks ago, I opened the door to check out a mysterious knocking. Nestled on the porch swing, carefully wrapped in a damp towel, was a bouquet of early blooming tulips cut fresh from Claudette’s garden. They remain in a vase—withered slightly, but not wholly lifeless, reminding us that a bounty of beautiful things is just around the corner.

Share |
ONE is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.