I don’t really know why April is the celebration of fools, but it might have to do with the crazy weather. At least around here it’s crazy. There are a few foolhardy crocuses out there, trying to pretend it’s spring, but most of the garden is in the “Who are you kidding?” mode.
Robert Frost, well named for this season, had April pinned when he reminded us that the same April day can make us think we are in May and then, in a blink of the eye, back in March. April is also Poetry Month, which can, fortunately be celebrated indoors as well as out. If you have any firewood left, you can curl up after the chores are done and lose yourself in poetry, which might stave off worries about whether you actually do have wood enough to finish the seemingly endless days of snow.
The snow is not a new phenomenon in these parts. An early settler of Randolph wrote in 1782 that there was nothing particular to report. The snow had departed two weeks before he wrote on May 2, and apparently that was not really newsworthy. I have also read that in 1842 there was still four feet of snow in Brattleboro in early April, and one to three feet more in the mountains. This was in Hosea Beckley’s History of Vermont which was published in 1846. I don’t know how sound a historian he was, but surely in just four years he couldn’t have added much to the total to make a point or all the folks around would have called him to order. (Of course, maybe they did; gossiping around the country store someone may have taken his figures to task – “Darned over-educated fool – there wa’n’t more than three feet down t’ Brattleboro,” someone might have said. “Wal,” may have been the reply, “ I can’t say I had more’n four and a half up the mountain road, but you know how writers are.”)
I was curious and started trying to find more information about the winter of 1842. Apparently it was horrible, and as late as the middle of June the Northeast was presented with a wide-ranging snowstorm that dumped about a foot on the Northeast Kingdom, with lesser amounts around the rest of Vermont. Zadock Thompson signed off one his Natural History of Vermont (along with his Civil History, and Gazeteer of the state) in October of 1842, so there are no figures of the winter, 1841 being the latest date for which he had figures. He did, however, record April snowfalls in Burlington for the winters of 1837-38, 1838-39, and in April 1841, cited three April snowstorms. His reports on sleighing might be a better measure – there are not incidents of “good sleighing” in Burlington after February in any of the five years he mentioned. He also writes that there was a lot more snow in the years before so much of the land was cleared. It is tempting to imagine Thompson was a little nostalgic for the olden days, but he is pretty clearly in a scientific frame of mind. (Thompson is still quite readable – he is free of all the confusing and blurring flourishes of many 19th century writers and avoids the pitfalls of showing off his prowess).
So in spite of our dismay at the cold April upon us, there is historical precedent, which in no way changes the weather but makes me feel connected some way. Maybe to my great-greats, who obviously survived, with apparently enough firewood and hay to get through to the next harvests – they were tough, and my hope is they passed that along to the rest of us.