Column: Waiting out the capricious month of March

  • Mary Otto. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

For the Valley News
Published: 3/20/2021 10:10:17 PM
Modified: 3/20/2021 10:10:14 PM

March is an unstable month. Unreliable and unpredictable. Streets and sidewalks can be clear and safe one day and treacherous the next. Too often warm sun on a Friday ushers in another frigid weekend.

As February draws to a close, I’m always reluctant to say goodbye to the pleasures of a Vermont winter: deep snow that’s good for cross-country skiing; quiet afternoons when I sit inside with a book and watch wind-driven flakes fly sideways in front of green hemlocks outside my window; the urge to make lentil soup, with that leftover ham bone, for dinner on a chilly night as the gas fire warms the dining room. This February, I was even inspired to design handmade Valentines, cutting out hearts from segments of Amanda Gorman’s inaugural poem and pasting them on top of outdoor scenes from leftover holiday cards. I know what to do in February. There is a kind of steadiness in this shortest month of the year.

Inevitably, March enters changeable and capricious, lion one day, lamb the next. Rain, sleet, snow and the dreaded “wintery mix” alternate, day by day, week by week. March snows are never as good for cross-country skiing because of the likelihood of ice underneath. For me, falling down while skiing is a bigger deal than it used to be. Getting back up can be a comedy at best, and a worry if I’ve bunged a knee.

I’ll still cook good food from time to time, but stews and soups have lost their magic. Sugarhouses will fire up their boilers, and this year’s syrup will be wonderful for a weekend pancake breakfast. Yet March also, inevitably, instills in me a sense of unrest and impatience. Our beloved Westie, Jasper, is a mess of mud and salt after nearly every walk.

In March, I long for warmer days outdoors. As snow lingers, I look for signs of spring. The days do grow noticeably longer. But red-winged blackbirds? The first robin? Crocus, daffodil, trillium? Forsythia?

A few days ago I bought a bushy rosemary plant at the grocery store to set on a windowsill in the kitchen. When I brush my hand over it to take in its aroma, the savory scent warms me every time. Though I’m no longer the avid gardener I was, I am exhilarated by the colorful seed envelops in the hardware store right now. Soon I’ll buy a few of those paper packets with their inviting pictures: lettuce and spinach at least. This year, I’ll have to figure out a new location for starting the seeds indoors. Maybe the sunny window next to the rosemary will be perfect.

Yes, it’s a slow transition. But as March advances, my spirits lighten. There are buds on the forsythia.

Mary K. Otto, formerly of Norwich, lives in Shelburne, Vt. Email her at

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