Snow fleas

Local History by Ron Patch. Ron Patch is a Chester native, Chester Historical Society president, and a lifelong antiques dealer. He can be reached at 802-374-0119 or email knotz69@gmail.com.

When I was young, in the 1950s and early 1960s, our winters were much more severe than those we have today. Bitter cold could last a week or more. This could be 30 below or colder. Many days the high temperature stayed below zero. I saw 42 below in Lyndonville in 1958. You could spit and before the spit hit the ground you could hear it crackle as it froze.

We probably had three times as much snow in those days as we have today. A snowstorm with two feet or more snow wasn’t uncommon. March could be a killer. School was seldom cancelled.

In those days, Vermont was far less wooded than today. This resulted in huge snowdrifts. Without trees to break the blowing snow, the wind blew the snow long distances, often piling up in the road.

Sap buckets at Ashton Spaulding sugar lot in Weathersfield. Photo provided by Ted Spaulding photo
Sap buckets at Ashton Spaulding sugar lot in Weathersfield. Photo provided by Ted Spaulding photo

The stretch of Route 103 north of Healdville was one of these locations. This is the long flat before the blinking light and the turn to Belmont. My earliest memories here were snow fences that were parallel to 103. These snow fences were a couple hundred feet off 103.

Snow fences acted as a barrier for drifting snow. While they helped, the snow would eventually drift over the top of the fences into the road. Today, there is a double row of tall evergreens along this section of 103 that prevents the snow from drifting into the road. I remember when those trees were planted in the early 1960s.

As snowflakes drift and tumble, they break apart. These snowdrifts were not light and fluffy snow. Instead, it was very dense. If a front wheel of your car caught in a drift, it could suck you in. In those days, very few had four-wheel drive.

By the beginning of February, we were tired of winter and looking forward to spring. Instead of looking to distant mid-April for relief, we developed ways of breaking up the remaining winter with signs of spring.

The first sap buckets to show up in February were a welcome sight. It was always great to see these buckets. Word would spread fast. “I see Mr. Crocker set his buckets out.” In those days, it was sap buckets, either metal or wood.

These sugarers climbed over huge snowbanks five feet high. In the woods, snowshoes were needed to get around. It was hard work.

It was usually in April when someone saw the first robin. This news spread rapidly amongst townspeople. Gordon Gates had an old saying: “I’d rather see the Devil than a March robin.” Today, we do see the March robin, sometimes February.

  Snow fleas

Those men working in the woods sugaring, logging, or rabbit hunting were the first to see “snow fleas.” What I give below is not a scientific study but my own observations acquired over 60 years.

Today, it usually occurs in February. If you’re in the woods this time of year, you’ll notice the snow around the base of trees starting to recede. This creates a round pocket around the base of the tree. I attribute this to the sun warming the trees and sap beginning to run. The warmth from the tree radiates out, melting the snow, creating these pockets.

These are the conditions when I see snow fleas. Snow fleas, you say? Yes, they are tiny insects that cover the snow. If you’ve never seen them, you might look for them.

If you have a pepper grinder you use on the dinner table today and went outside and ground the pepper, the pepper flakes on the snow would look like snow fleas. This gives you an idea how small they are.

Again, my observations only: It’s when these pockets around the tree trunks begin to show up, that I see snow fleas. Snow fleas live in the decaying leaves under the snow. When the snow melts, exposing the decaying leaves, the snow fleas come to the surface. This is another sign that winter is beginning to break. Don’t eat that snow.

From Wikipedia: Hypogastrura nivicola is a species of dark blue Springtail. Its (US) English name is snow flea, but there are also insects called by that name. They are often seen jumping about on the surface of snow on a warm winter day in North America.”

  Ice-out

Ice-out on the Connecticut River was another welcome sign of spring. There was always someone who reported, “The ice is out.” This meant we would be wetting a line soon.

  Baseball

Spring training baseball was another great sign of spring.

This week’s old saying: “If you bet on the world ending, what do you win?”

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