RICHMOND -- The first two winters at our new house, longer than anything Laura Ingalls Wilder dreamed of, included a builder-owned gravel road that was plowed but not salted or sanded, a nine-foot drift in front of the garage and a perpetual battle with ice.

The December through March view was quite different from the meadow filled with buttercups and daisies that had sold us on our little plot one bright June day. That first year, our neighbor Roy Rawson told us that come spring we'd hear the snow melting off the mountain.

Melts from underneath, he said. You'll hear it. We admired him endlessly, since he so often saved us from ourselves, dimwit new homeowners that we were. But we pretty much dismissed this prediction as part of the never-ending warnings and oddments that came from those who seemed to have been Richmond residents since the beginning of time. The town grapevine was a live, thriving thing, and we already knew many of the locals had deemed us crazy for building on the hill in the first place.

We had our own doubts the night we left our car at the end of our road and walked the half mile or so up to the house. Ice coated the gravel that evening, and we labored along the crunchy edge to keep our footing. When that iced over, we crawled -- in wind and a chilly precipitation that was more rain than snow.

Next morning, predictably, Roy Rawson was at the door.


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He'd found our car on his front lawn and discovered we were neither in it, nor under it. So he came on up for the story. Should've knocked, he said, and we'd have gotten you home. How, we asked. And for once, he had no ready solution.

Then, March came along, a lion one day and a lamb the next, a month that seems to have a perpetual identity crisis. And on one of its blue sky days, sure enough, we could hear the snow melting. It's a sound so soft it's not there if a car is passing or a blue jay squawking. But it happens. So far this year, despite the fact that the depth is shrinking, we haven't heard the slight gurgle apparently created when the earth stirs enough to cause under-snow rivulets.

But sometimes you have to wonder what is going on down there, aside from various small rodents tunneling about and eating a path in this year's lawn. The snowdrops, for instance, those lovely harbingers of things to come, sometimes flower in February, but not this year. Are they blooming down there somewhere, minus the warmth of the north-shifting sun? Or do they have the patience to wait it out?

We know tree roots wiggle early. Already large trees are circled with bare ground. Maples are sending up the sap that can be turned into syrup. Ours could be tapped, but we shy away from making holes in trees, and we don't want all that steam in the kitchen either. Boiling sap into syrup is a tedious business for amateurs -- it takes nearly 50 gallons of sap to get a gallon of maple syrup. We just depend on Rob Leab at Ioka Valley Farm in Hancock for ours.

One thinks -- hopes -- the daffodils are rubbing their eyes by now. Crocuses may already have their noses above ground under the snow. But with the help of chipmunks and other not-so-cute beings, we have only one crocus, a 50-year-old bulb that has somehow escaped the marauders.

Everyone's pining for spring, but the fact is that the ridiculous woodchuck in Pennsylvania actually gave us good news when he saw his shadow. Only six more weeks from Ground Hog Day -- it would be a gift. That would be right around St. Patrick's Day, a day of luck, charm and, perhaps, a warm breeze.

Ruth Bass lives in a snowscape in Richmond. Her web site is www.ruthbass.com.