Springtime Rituals

The oversized mail chute at the Portland P.O.

I filed my tax returns yesterday, went to the main post office in Portland, walked into the circa 1932 building and put them in the big chute mailbox, just like I did before there was an internet.

Tradition can be such a comfort.

In our turbo-speed world, it may be easier to file electronically, to send my annual report of income and deductions and credits into the ether along with information about how to debit my bank account for the balance due, but I prefer to mail the physical return and a paper check off to Hartford, Connecticut.

There, in what I picture as a gray building with grim slits for windows, I imagine a skeleton crew toiling in a giant, echoing mailroom, because probably only a handful of us still cling to the old way of carrying out the mid-April ritual.


Last month we traveled to Massachusetts for my family’s annual St. Patrick’s Day party, which remains pretty much the same from year to year even though my siblings and I are the oldest generation now.

Irish step dancing dress, circa-1963, when it was mine.

Niece Bridget made the corned beef and cabbage and my sister Kate made mutton pies—individual two-crust lamb pies seasoned with salt, pepper and cinnamon, dropped into simmering lamb broth until they are soft and heated through. My grandmother learned to make them from her mother when she was a girl in County Kerry. She in turn taught my mother, who taught my sister. This year Kate had mutton pie help from her son and his five-year-old daughter Keegan, who seems to have inherited the baking gene.

I cherish St. Patrick’s Day with my family. It’s such a happy gathering. Winter’s on the run, a perfect time to gather around the table to visit and eat, listen to traditional tunes and applaud Caeley, the next-to-the youngest in the clan, as she dances the reels and jigs she’s mastered this year.


Diane’s birthday is in May, which she (and everyone else I know who has a May birthday) insists is the best month of the year to have been born. Given that it’s the month in Maine when the tulips shoot from the earth and the lilacs perfume the air, I think she’s right about that.

Birders checking out warblers

May is when songbirds migrate back to Maine, and in the days around Diane’s birthday it’s become our custom to take part in the Maine Audubon Society’s warbler walks in Portland. Some days this happens at Evergreen Cemetery, others at Capisic Pond. Along with an Audubon naturalist, expert birders and beginners like me spend a hushed hour trying to spot and identify Redstarts, Chestnut-sideds and Black-Throated Greens. It’s become a treasured annual ritual, and I look forward to taking part again in a few weeks.


Today is Patriots’ Day, celebrated in Maine and Massachusetts and definitely in our household, because it is the day (most years) we put the cold frame on one of the raised beds and plant chard and early salad greens.

Our early raised bed in a previous year. Trust me, the grass in our yard shows not a hint of green yet, but the seeds are going in today.

If there is a more satisfying spring ritual than putting your hands in the dirt and your hope in a handful of tiny seeds, I sure don’t know what it is.

These rituals—hard-copy tax returns, St. Patrick’s Day revelry, hopeful May birding, planning and planting the garden—are my springtime signposts. What are the things you do every year this time to mark the earth’s awakening?

Brenda Buchanan is the author of the Joe Gale Mystery Series, featuring a diehard Maine newspaper reporter who covers the crime and courts beat. Three books—QUICK PIVOT, COVER STORY and TRUTH BEAT—are available everywhere e-books are sold. She is writing a new series that has as its protagonist a Portland criminal defense lawyer willing to take on cases others won’t touch in a town to which she swore she would never return.


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6 Responses to Springtime Rituals

  1. Start seeds and wait to see if any I inherited from Mom or my father in law will germinate, go to the Fedco tree and plant sale, rake a crazy amount of sand off the lawn, go ditch mining as soon as the snow melts, sit on the back deck in a t-shirt and read all day.

  2. Kate Flora says:

    I wrote a nice long comment and dang, it disappeared. So I’ll try again. For me, it’s all about the garden. Clearing off the debris and leaves. Seeing who has survived the winter. Finding those plants who are hogging their space and leaning on others and need to be dug out or divided. I love watching plants that begin as tiny green shoots seeming to explode overnight into bright green plants. Working in the garden, down on hands and knees digging in the soil is such a zen activity.


    • Brenda Buchanan says:

      It really is, isn’t it? We’re starting the magic under our cold frame today. Keeping an eye open for tulip shoots, hoping the deer don’t get them this year before we’ve had a chance to enjoy a day or two of bloom.

  3. bethc2015 says:

    Believe it or not, I like spring cleaning. But I also like the sound of the geese returning to the river, songbirds singing their mating songs, and the peepers peeping in the pond created by the snow melt. Spring is a time for listening to the ice breaking up and the rivers rushing. And, of course, it is a time for blowing bubbles.

  4. sandra neily says:

    Hearing male purple finches sing out their competing territories! Finding red backed salamanders under logs. Calling in Bard Owls. Listening to the last ice in the cove sing like wind chimes.

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