Jim McGuire: Spring is on the way!


March is here—and in my book, that’s sufficient cause for a confident and relieved round of rousing cheers.

Nature writer Hal Borland liked to refer to March as an “interregnum month.” That’s a good description befitting this transition period between two distinctly different seasons.

By the calendar, March is officially two-thirds winter. But the weather is already improving noticeably. Daytime highs are in the upper-40s, 50s, sometimes even the low-60s; nights seldom drop much below freezing.

This is what an old friend always called “doable weather.” She’d been born and raised on the sunny Caribbean tropical island of Trinidad. Ohio wasn’t just a strange state in a foreign land—it was an inhospitable outpost on an alien planet! Winter was an annual ordeal to be suffered through and survived.

“Doable weather” meant temperatures sufficiently mild that she wouldn’t have to bundle up as if dressing for an arctic expedition. March, and it’s “doable” days, was her light of hope at the end of a bitterly harsh tunnel.

Of course change is always the watchword for March. While winter’s sovereignty is indeed relaxing, lessening its hold during this third month’s reign, spring won’t be formally proclaimed for a couple more weeks—not until the passing equinox on the 20th.

Yet for all it capriciousness, March’s equinoctial stirrings bring clear reassurance of the vernal resurrection. Change is everywhere afoot, though much of it remains invisible.

Yet somewhere in the mystery of root and seed, egg and pupa, the season’s measure and progress is being daily taken. This unseen accountability tracks a thousand unique rhythms—each living thing keeping its own score, marking its own passage.

When the time comes—as it so often does in March—the pace suddenly quickens. Blood in the sleeping woodchuck livens. Deep in the white oak’s heart-roots, sap stirs.

March arrives and nature’s pulse begins to throb, whether in hemoglobin red or chlorophyll green.

Many changes are visible. In the marshy corner of a long-neglected farm pond, newly-returned red-winged blackbirds will soon be balancing on desiccated weed stalks, screeching and flashing their scarlet epaulets.

Countless buds, long dormant and set on last summer’s twigs, will perceptibly begin to swell.

My neighbor’s yard has been sprinkled with blooming snowdrops for more than a week. While just up the road, a woodsy bend is spattered with yellow winter aconites.

I expect to see crocus planted near the cottage’s south wall popping up any day. And bloodroot on the hillside below the road have already poked their furled leafheads from the duff and will display their lovely white blooms before the month’s end.

Whenever these first flowers of the year make their appearance, I inevitably feel compelled to mount at least one exploratory foray in search of skunk cabbage and snow trilliums.

I may or may not find these two spring harbingers a’bloom in their usual places—but I know for certain I’ll find mud on the trails!

I once heard a fellow say we have to wade through the mud of March in order to arrive at the green grass of April. Being a sort of philosophical farmer, I expect he meant this both literally and figuratively.

March mud is an unavoidable and messy fact. Whether you want to take a hike in the woods or a walk in the park, you’re probably going to get your shoes “gombed up,” as my father used to put it. March is why farm houses are often designed with an outermost, first-entry “mud room.”

But the comment also recognizes that sort of spiritual March mud we must endure along the road to April—an encumbrance of equal parts impatience and longing.

February is gone and we want to step out our back door and find gloriously green April. There’s yard work to get started, gardens to be raked of last year’s clutter. Can’t the transition between winter and spring hurry?

No, it can’t. Weather vagaries aside, these transformations take time. That ancient Ecclesiastical observation that everything has its season, its own moment and pace, is soundly at work here.

The metamorphose of winter into spring is March’s contribution in nature’s scheme of things—a diversionary role acting as a sort of grace note between what has ended and what is yet to come.

Spring beguiles, seduces, enthralls precisely because it reveals itself to us one tantalizing facet at a time—an exquisite drama of slow unfolding.

Somewhere in the rich woodland loam beneath a rotting beech log, a salamander feels a subtle tug. Soon, perhaps after a day or two of soft rain, this small, retiring creature will burrow free of it usual home for a midnight journey in search of a certain vernal pool. Gelatinous eggs masses will be visible in the shallows come the light of dawn.

We may never witness these procreative salamanders, but we’ll surely hear the strident peepers and toads, calling in shrill proclamation of spring triumphant.

Fear not—spring is on the way!

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