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Gardening Tips: Beware the Ides of March

March 15, 2019 11:37 am Updated: March 15, 2019 11:42 am


I had to return to New York last week from my winter home in Florida for a few days in order to get my new enhanced driver’s license.

This process generally requires an in-person visit to the DMV with lots of papers to prove citizenship, social security and residence. A new photograph and an eye test is also required for the new license.

I thought I had all the proper paperwork with me the first time I drove to the DMV, but I did not and it actually took me three trips from Conesville to Catskill to get it done. The late winter scenery is not as pretty as I remembered and the dirt and salt residues made it seem like my borrowed car needed to be washed every time I drove it.

I also wanted to get a taste of late winter at home for the first time in perhaps five or six years. I enjoy my winter time in Florida very much, but occasionally, I get homesick for the Catskill Mountains.

I have fond memories of March ice fishing, snow shoeing, X-country skiing, boiling maple sap and tracking animals in the snowy woods. I celebrated many birthdays boiling sap in my yard as I gazed up at those beautiful blue and white hills around me.

A man needs a change of elevation on occasion. The only time I get above sea level down here is when I drive over Tampa Bay via the Sunshine Skyway.

My neighbor back home told me I would need to get my driveway plowed out to begin with, which was a bit of a surprise. I was not expecting more than a foot on snow on the ground as I drove home from Albany airport, but the north-facing dirt road I live on and the woods around my house did indeed have at least 12 inches of snow.

The second unpleasant surprise was a burst pipe somewhere that prevented me from turning on the water. My plumber had turned on the gas heat, but it had been too cold to turn on the water until the house warmed up. It was 3 degrees when I got home the first night. That was quite a shock to my system, which had become accustomed to 80-degree days.

It did not get all that cold again while I was home. In fact, it warmed up to 45 degrees or so and much of the snow melted and was replaced by mud or by huge, wet puddles on top of frozen ground.

I have never been a fan of the messy mud season that precedes spring in the Catskills. There was no evidence of spring flowering bulbs yet, or any sign of life really, in the areas I traveled in.

If I was staying in New York for more than a few days, I would have cut and forced some trees and shrubs into bloom to see some color.

The second night at home, it snowed about 4 inches more on top of the half-melted snow that had refrozen into ice. I fell down hard, once, in the driveway on the snow-covered ice.

I needed to get into my sheds to get my snow shovel and some tools, but the shed doors were blocked by snow drifts and a few inches of inch beneath them that I had to chip away. It took a couple of uncomfortable hours to finally squeeze inside the doors to fetch my snow shovel and an ice chipping tool.

When I finally got inside my sheds, I noticed my stored ice fishing gear and some metal, maple tapping spiles that I used in years gone by. Before I returned to Florida, I gave all those things away to younger friends who will get to enjoy the same pleasures of March that I once enjoyed.

I am sorry to admit, but for me, those days have passed forever. The soothsayer told Caesar to “beware the Ides of March” (March 15) and that is the day he was assassinated. I celebrate my birthday on the Ides, but I don’t think that celebration will happen anymore in my home in New York.

This year I will go to a baseball, spring training game, instead, with my kids and grandkids. It is a good trade; baseballs for snowballs, or mud balls!

Spring is still on the horizon in upstate New York.

Reach Bob Beyfuss at