A Foot of 'Partly Cloudy' on My Road

Willie Nelson sang wistfully of being on the road again, outbound for adventure. John Denver sang longingly of the "country roads" that would take him home again.

The avenue away and the highway home are the same road; it just looks different when seen from opposite ends. For years the road that symbolizes both home and away for me has been Interstate 89. The away lane leads to Boston, the road home ends in Milton, Vt.

I've been over the road so many times that I know the place in New Hampshire where a poplar sapling gets entombed every winter in the blue-white beard of frozen seepage from a rock wall. Mile 38. And northbound, there's a hill where a half-dozen pines break the distant smooth line of hardwood twigs against the sky. To the road-weary eye they look like so many Comanche scouts on the skyline.

Yeah, I know, I've been on the road too long. But I keep looking for small signs of change along the road, for the end of bare branches and white ground. Old Vermonters believe that March brings a low point in the human reservoir of vitality, drained by the long winter months. If they can make it through March, old-timers claim, they'll be all right for the rest of the year. It's a comforting notion now, considering that we haven't yet made it through March and there's a foot of fresh "partly cloudy" on my flowerbed.

The first sign of change will be when hillcrests take on that purple-gray haze that means the buds are swelling. All the other seasonal changes to come cascade from that slight coloration.

Dormancy dominates in March and yet rebirth begins. The day outlasts the dark, and then, it's sugarin' season. The earth begins to thaw, and maple roots begin to draw. In the sugarbush, wise old horses drag sap sleds from tree to tree, and stop without being told, as young men empty pails of the season's first harvest. The clear sap flows downhill to sugarhouses where old men with patient hands and knowing eyes boil it into syrup, gold and amber brown - and start the cadence of the quickening of spring.

* Steve Delaney is a former host of Monitor Radio.

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