Bring on Spring! Local folks happy to see winter go

The Recorder. March 19 2015. Tom Relihan.

Jane Buchanan, the Greenfield Public Library’s Head of Borrower Services, remembers being in Boston during the infamous Blizzard of 1978, which dumped 27 inches of snow on the city over nearly a day and a half.

With the arrival of spring today after a winter that saw between one and two feet of snow on the ground for much of the season in Greenfield and a February that broke records for sub-zero temperatures, she felt it was appropriate to revive the iconic slogan that was stamped on T-shirts, bumper stickers and other paraphernalia following that storm almost 40 years later: “I survived the Blizzard of 1978.”

This time, though, the shirts don’t commemorate a single storm, but the entirety of the season. As part of a program to raise money to support the library’s programming, Buchanan and her team have designed shirts that read “Thanks to the Greenfield Public Library, I survived the Winter of 2015,” and will sell them for $20 each.

The proceeds, she said, will be used to help continue offering the programs at the library that she said helped patrons make it through the winter, such as Chess Club, The Hobbit Experience party and the First Wednesday speaker series.

Those programs are represented in a word cloud on the back of each shirt, which come in bright green, blue and pink and go on sale today.

“We had such a terrible, horrible winter, and we were brainstorming how to welcome in spring with a flourish while doing something fun to draw attention to the library. All of the programs at the library helped people get through the winter,” Buchanan said.

If the shirts are a big hit, she said, they’ll make a return appearance next year if the winter’s just as bad.

“Who knows? If the summer is in the 90s, we’ll do it again!” Buchanan said.

Maplin’ in March

Nothing screams “Spring!” in Franklin County like maple syrup season, and a quick drive down Route 116 between Conway and Ashfield — or just about any road in the area, for that matter — proves it has begun in earnest. Plastic tubing runs between maple trees like a spider’s web, guiding their sap down to roadside bins for collection by a plethora of local sugarhouses.

“It’s really the first agricultural event of the year,” said Winton Pitcoff, the coordinator of the Plainfield-based Massachusetts Maple Producers Association. “The trees opened up just in time and there’s a lot of boiling going on.

Howard Boyden, the co-owner of Boyden Brothers Maple in Conway, said the season started about two days later than it did last year, but his sugarhouse has already produced about 172 gallons of the sticky, golden stuff — about 20 percent of their average annual crop.

“The sap wasn’t terribly sweet at first, but once the roots thawed and it really started flowing, we got boiling,” Boyden said.

Boyden’s sugarhouse will be one among about a dozen sugarhouses and restaurants in Franklin County that will open its door for Maple Weekend on Saturday and Sunday. Depending on the weather, visitors will have the chance to watch the sap get boiled or see how maple cream is made.

“It depends on whether or not it warms up enough to get a run of sap, but we’ll be open and people can come taste fresh syrup. Our full line will be up for sale,” Boyden said.

Syrup: One sweet performing arts festival

Syrup and a show? That’ll be the case in Shelburne starting Saturday afternoon, with the Piti Theatre Company’s annual performing arts festival kicking off at Memorial Hall with a performance of “Innocenzo,” the group’s new play about a clown who suffers from problems related to electromagnetic pollution, based on the real life experience of one of its co-creators.

“Syrup is a sign of spring, and this is a celebration of syrup and of spring,” said Jonathan Mirin, one of the company’s directors. “We thought of it because there are so many fall festivals, but not as many spring festivals. It seemed like there was a need for that, and it gives us an excuse to put on a show at Memorial Hall and give back to the community we live in.”

The event will also feature Vermont’s Nimble Arts troupe, who will give a performance at 5 p.m. on Saturday and host workshops on aerial silk acrobatics and juggling on Sunday. In keeping with its theme, syrup-related door prizes will be available and guests can partake in a syrup tasting, with syrup-maker Gary Shaw on hand to answer questions and guide tasters through the different syrup grades.

Tickets are $12 and $5 for children 12 and under.

Rooting for spring

At the Greenfield Community Farm, operated by local nonprofit Just Roots, management and administration director Jessica Van Steensburg said the farm is beginning to ramp up for operation about two to three weeks later than last year, due to the harsh winter.

The organization’s staff and interns have begun starting seeds in the greenhouses, she said, despite the full snow cover that remains on the fields. Before planting can begin, the snow will have to melt and the ground will need to dry out enough to get a tractor across it.

“Nature’s got us a bit behind schedule,” said Van Steensburg.

In the meantime, the organization is hard at work planning the various spring and summer workshops and events that it will host, including a draft horse weekend course, a certificate program in community herbalism, and a “Women in Agriculture” weekend workshop. The organization will also be opening up a new distribution point at the Greenfield Senior Center on High Street.

Public works preparation

Despite the fact that spring has officially sprung, the Greenfield Department of Public Works Director Donald Ouellette said the department isn’t quite ready to shelve the plows and sand spreaders for the year — another inch of snow is predicted for this weekend.

“This has not been a normal year, and it doesn’t look like we’re going to be getting much done in March,” Ouellette said. “Mother Nature plays a big role, and the frost has been really deep. Up to four feet in some locations.”

According to Ouellette, the period between now and Memorial Day tends to be one of the busiest times for the department. Once the snow does melt, he said the department will begin working to repair catch basins, cleanup damaged curbs and trim back trees.

By April, he expects the snow will be gone for good, which will allow street sweeping and painting on roadways and crosswalks to commence. Around the same time, All States Asphalt’s plant should be open and the department can begin plugging up all those potholes with something besides coal patch, he said.

“It’s tough to get anything to stay in the potholes right now,” said Ouellette.

The DPW is also responsible for getting the town’s sports fields in playable shape, but he doesn’t expect them to be ready for use before mid-April.

Honoring the equinox

Spring’s official start is marked cosmologically by the vernal equinox, and the Petersham Unitarian Church in Petersham will mark the occasion with a ritual led by Katja Esser, a professional ceremonialist. Esser will lead attendees in meditation, song and movement as well as providing an explanation the significance of the equinox.

“For many, this is the moment to release the old and birth truly into the new,” Esser said. She said this year’s equinox is particularly special because it will include a total solar eclipse on Friday afternoon.

The University of Massachusetts-Amherst will also hold its own annual equinox celebration on Friday, inviting the public to watch the sunrise and sunset amid the standing stones at the university’s Sunwheel on Rocky Hill Road. The sunrise event will be held at 6:45 a.m. and the sunset event will start at 6 p.m.

At the Sunwheel, observers standing at the center of the standing stones will see the sun rise and set over stones placed to mark the equinoxes. UMass astronomer Christopher Thibodeau will be on hand to give a talk about what causes the equinox and take questions from the audience.

If it rains, or there’s a blizzard, the events will be canceled with a rain date of … next year.

Destinations for Maple Weekend Sugarhouses

  • Ashfield South Face Farm Sugarhouse, 755 Watson Spruce Corner Road
  • Colrain Browning Brook Maple, 4 Nelson Road
  • Conway Boyden Brothers Sugarhouse, 642 South Deerfield Road; Stonegate Farm, 1263 Bardwell Ferry Road
  • Deerfield Williams Farm Sugarhouse, 491 Greenfield Road
  • Hawley Chickley Alp Farm, 60 West Hawley Road
  • Northfield Round Mountain Sugarhouse, 263C Warwick Road; Severance Maple Products, 52 Pierson Road
  • Shelburne Davenport Maple Farm, 111 Tower Road; Gould’s Sugarhouse, 570 Mohawk Trail; Graves Sugarhouse, 80 Wilson Graves Road; Hagers Farm Market, 1232 Mohawk Trail
  • Whately Brookledge Sugarhouse, 10 Westbrook Road


  • Ashfield Elmers 396 Main St.
  • Greenfield Taylors Tavern and Restaurant, 238 Main St.
  • Northfield Mim’s Market, 60 Main St.
  • Shelburne Hager’s Farm Market, 1232 Mohawk Trail
  • Shelburne Falls West End Pub, 16 State St.
  • South Deerfield Chandlers, 25 Deerfield Road
  • Sunderland Blue Heron, 112 North Main St.