February's the month when many Northerners, tired of cold and gray days, flee to the South, for a weekend, a week, a month or longer.
Those left behind gripe about the seemingly endless cycle of freeze, thaw, mud and more mud. Or, they look for any signs of spring: a few loose hairs on the horses, a yellow dandelion, bird song, a groundhog who doesn't see his shadow.
I slog out the late winter months in Ohio, griping and searching--and also heading to the woods to visit the maple trees.
A local park taps about 40 maple trees each year and relies on volunteers to collect the sap. The sap runs for about six weeks in late winter when nights are cold and days warm above freezing.
This year's cold weather means maple syrup season is getting off to a slow start.
During my first two visits, temperatures remained near freezing and there was no sap to collect.
The woods are quiet at this time of year. Few people visit the park in winter; the leaves have lost their crunch, and gray days do not entice the birds to sing.
Today, though, I heard another sound that lifted my spirits.
Drip, long pause, drip, pause, drip. The sap was flowing.
The ice on the river was melting.
The wild flowers are awakening.
In the coming weeks, I expect the dripping of the maple sap will increase, until one day, when the sap turns a yellow or cloudy hue.
Those colors indicate the trees are ready to bud--and spring is finally here.