As the Worm Turns, the Robins Appear, with Peepers and Black Flies Due on Cue

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John Harrigan photo

Sugaring snow is what they’ve always called it, on this day near the final weekend of sugaring in the North Country, where the old maple trees at the historic Poore Family Farm Museum along Route 145 in Stewartstown seemed begging for buckets.

Re-printed from Salmon Press newspapers in Meredith, N.H.

By John Harrigan

This is the time for seasonal notes, because close by the Canadian border we are on the cusp of the season, halfway between the end of Mud Season and the real beginning of spring. Here the seasons are almost a week behind Littleton, and nearly two weeks behind Concord.

This is true only during the first half of the year. Toward the end of the warm months, the order of the seasons is reversed. Autumn comes earlier in the north. Our leaves are the first to morph into fall foliage, a process like the snow line, marching steadily southward.

Just now, as this is written on April 22nd (my birthday), there are still nodules of ice deep in the woods and snow at higher elevations, and the peepers began to sing in the swamps just two days ago, April 20.


My friend Glen Zibolis, indeed one of my oldest friends from my first newspaper job at the Nashua Telegraph in 1968, drove up from Rhode Island with wife Beth to hang out and enjoy the change of climes, and he and I sat on the porch and enjoyed cigars, a frequent thing for him but a twice a year ritual for me when they come up spring and fall.

Birds were flying around gathering stuff for nests, some to start new ones and some to refurbish old ones, like the one above a music speaker on the porch, where in a month or so little beaks will appear, begging and piping for the food Mom brings. If all goes according to norm, the mother will get used to me coming and going and sitting in a rocker, and will go about her duties as if I were neither.

This includes eventually teaching her kids to fly, which tends to be a circus. The chicks, fledged out, summon up the courage to claw up and sit on the lip of the nest while she sits on one of the glacial erratics on the lawn, encouraging them in bird talk. “Come on now,” she’s saying. “You can do it. Bird up, for Pete’s sake.”

First one makes the bold leap into the air, to plop onto the deck, then another. In first flight they invariably crash and burn, as the saying goes, landing in a heap either on the porch or terra firma itself. They gather their wings and feathers and what little wits they have at that age, and with Mom’s exhortations try again, aiming for the top of the boulder where she waits but usually crashing and burning again somewhere in between.

On the third try they usually actually become airborne, and make it in low Wright-like flight to the pasture fence, Mom flying to the crash site, giving advice in bird-talk, and finally they’re off again, flying around a bit like errant shuttlecocks before aiming for the big spruce tree nearby, into which they crash and disappear before clawing their way out to the end of a branch, where they teeter and ponder the next move, gathering strength and resolve before taking wing again with increasing aplomb.


During the time it took for Glen and me to smoke our cigars down to finger-burning stubs, robins appeared to forage on ground that just days ago was too frozen for a pounded grade-stake. Yet there they were, cocking heads and stabbing at the ground for worms and grubs.

How do they do this? Common lore is that they cock their heads to listen for the subtle sounds of worms moving in the soil down there just below the greening grass, but I don’t think that’s it. I think that it’s all in the toes—that they feel movement through their feet, and the brain computes the location while their eye and ear triangulate the source.


Why I included my birthday in this column of whimsy I don’t really know, except all during my adult years I figured I’d never make it beyond 65, for reasons I’ve never fathomed, and here I am at 69, on the verge of Geezerdom.

So I indulge myself, like enjoying a rare and fine cigar, and going out for supper instead of cooking it, and watching birds signal the advent of spring. It is a time and season to savor, just as it will just four months from now, when the cycle begins again.

Longtime statewide outdoor writer and North Country newspaper owner John Harrigan of Colebrook writes for whenever the spirit moves him. His weekly column “North Country Notebook” runs in the Salmon Press papers covering the northern two-thirds of the state (, as well as the Colebrook News and Sentinel.  He is a guest every Thursday morning at 7:10 on Concord’s WTPL FM 107.7 with host Peter St. James. He has been working in various media, with a lot of radio and television but mostly newspapers, for 47 years and, he says, “still counting.” Email Harrigan at or write to him at Box 39, Colebrook, NH 03576.)