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Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

April 1999

A moody March night. © Scott Nielsen.

A liking for March

A contrary month has an admirer in Central Wisconsin.

Justin Isherwood


Moody, unpredictable, stunningly beautiful: That's the month of March.

© Scott Nielsen

I like a March that stays late.

I like March that dallies and balks at spring. A March that asks the fire be kindled though the day felt warm. A March whose sun was on a merry puddle and whose moon has turned it to a hoary pane.

I like a March to insist I take my sledge and wedge to the wood yard and assail the oak too long to fit the stove. And hammer away till we reach a breathless truce, it knocking off as much of me as I of it.

Some impugn March as a messy month, a headstrong, impolite and oh-so-tardy month. One day companionable, the next a resentful menace throwing around its weight and tipping the furniture. March, some say, is indecent. How the thaw was followed tight after by an openly indignant blizzard flanking every road and forcing surrender, taking hostages of the rest of the township. The farmer who yesterday took the tractor from its mooring in the shed is today lost at sea.

I like March when the moon ascends the cherished twilight like the apple my grandmother wrapped in newsprint in October, awful and wizened 'till the paring made a fragrant sliver of new appled moon.

March has Jurassic heart and shall be pierced by extinction. The snow in dirt-crusted drift almost asks to die, but then will not go when the means is found. The heat of a spring day warms the brown fields, the dying drifts slink and hide in the last preserves like a car-hit dog, wounded and gone to die where it is cold and shadowed, where the pain of the last melt is less.

I cheer a wolf-toothed March that taunts those already in summer shorts and laden with char-grill and hammock pillow. People who cannot stand in line for ice cream at solstice and wear galoshes at the same time.

March as loves mud is my ally. It is openly venomous of the Easter bonnet. Some hold snow which falls on the other side of Ash Wednesday is unconstitutional and a violation. For them, there is not salt enough to wound March with; to teach it manners and how to behave according to the fashion.

I like a March that blows perpendicular to everything else, crosswise of all that is alive except barbwire. And a night the wind won't quit and the town plow can't defend the road and resigns till morning knowing they'd rather not see the day. The week after devoted to digging out and pushing back what a warm spell might do.

A March wind can chew a chimney top and suck at the damper 20 feet down, banging it in the middle of the night like a prowler working the lock.

I like March in empty barns out on the muck, the door slapping at snow flies, always too slow, too rusty to hit the tormenter. The timbers chafe and groan, the barn whimpers and the nails lose another fraction. In the mow I heard the door and thought to tie it down. I had it closed but the wind recoiled. Insulted, I hauled the line to have it, grabbed for twine to hobble the wind by using one hand and half hitches. I knew it futile. As my back turned, the door came undone with March running off with the string in its mouth.

In March cows lean on the farmer's hands for warmth and cats born to prowl are home for the night instead of following the moon to the hedge. All winter these grim and stealthful cats were too proud to wind around the milkman's feet. March, they do not trust after dark.

Of all the months, March is the most untamed. March unhitched Caesar and by the same ice of intrigue, March disconnects the lights and furnace fan, every farm cut adrift as its own lifeboat. March makes the roads impassable and everything primitive again. The household marooned without microwave, no fridge, and, horror of horrors, no TV. How much worse can it be?

No other month will try with such regularity to strand us without plumbing and lights.

I have come to admire March that pours unabated across the field. Driving waves and sleet, farther out a phosphor line. My neighbor's barn riding the current bobs in the sea, its lights flash a distress signal, founder and then go down as if sunk by a U-boat somewhere in the March sea off the coast of winter.

Essayist Justin Isherwood writes from Plover, Wisconsin.