Jim McGuire: Spring’s doorway begins to open


By Jim McGuire

Contributing columnist

March is here, and before it ends, we’ll have officially made it to spring!

However, that glorious seasonal fact notwithstanding, as months go, March has also long possessed a rather dubious reputation.

For example, there’s the old “mad as a March hare,” cautionary warning.

First mentioned centuries ago by English poet and playwright John Heywood in his 1546 book of proverbs, this notion stems from the observed breeding-season crazy antics of European hares, which typically peak mid-month. That’s more than three centuries before the zany character of the Mad March Hare appeared in the tea party scene in Lewis Carroll’s 1865 classic, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland!”

Yet even today — 22 years into a new millennium, on a different continent far across the Atlantic — this idiomatic phrase rings true, as similar comically goofy mating frolics and amusing didoes can also be witnessed among our local love-struck cottontails.

There’s also the vaguely menacing promise implied in the “Ides of March,” which springs from the old Roman calendar.

Though the term initially referred to the mid-point of a given month in their way of timekeeping — in March’s case, the 15th marked the first full moon in their new year — it subsequently became notorious as the date of the assassination of Julius Caesar. From that point on, the reputation surrounding the Ides of March was forever blackened.

Blood and bunnies aside, March still isn’t fully trusted — mostly and rightly due to its unstable weather.

March weather is fickle, always changing. Alternately cold, warm, rainy, sunny, windy, calm, plus maybe some sleet or a snowstorm for good measure! A boisterous lion one moment, a passive lamb the next.

We want March to be April, but distrustfully fear it will revert to February.

Officially, of course, the month is two-thirds winter — a fact we often overlook. Now’s that time when most of us resort to aggressive optimism. Are you going to believe the calendar or your heart? Surely we’ve arrived at the end of winter…right?

Capricious as March often is, we should always keep in mind that we are indeed being steadily led into the time of vernal resurrection. Things may stutter along, even backtrack occasionally; last week’s sunshine may give way to this week’s snow. But the trend is there, as ancient and inevitable as the seasons themselves.

In the sugarbush, the maple’s sap is rising. Sweet droplets run down tap spouts and fall into collecting buckets in a staccato hymn. Steam and smoke from the evaporator fire fill the woods with an exquisite incense — a luscious olfactory ambrosia that should reaffirm anyone’s convictions.

No seasonal skeptic ever makes maple syrup.

In the swampy woods and boggy edges, the purple-mottled spathes of skunk cabbage emerge. Mysterious rather than pretty — like miniature monks cowls poking through the chilled, soggy duff.

Skunk cabbage is arguably spring’s first wildflower — though you have to bend close to see the actual bloom contained within this odd, gnome’s-tent of a plant. Tiny dots of yellow encircle a strange, upright projection located inside the spathe — a peculiar interior protrusion called the spadix. There, the true flowers appear like studded beadwork on a lilliputian totem pole.

Morning birds are beginning to tune their instruments. Robins, cardinals, song sparrows, plus a daily increasing swell of other species as the host of early-returning migrants wing into town and join the chorus.

You’ll hear them run through a riff or two just after dawn, like sleepy musicians tentatively sounding out a new auditorium, getting a feel for the acoustics of the place. Soon they’ll all be engaged in full dress rehearsals — readying themselves for their procreative spring performances come April and May.

If you simply desire incontrovertible seasonal proof, look to the buds. Notice the red maples. Observe the buckeye shoots. Pay attention to the swelling lilacs. Feel the plush catkin of the pussy willow.

That honeyed glow in the weeping willow withes tells it all — the truth of burgeoning time and the arriving season is absolutely revealed in the buds.

Alternately, you might carefully listen to the wind. March winds sing of change — the lament of passing winter, the madrigal of coming spring. Equinoctial winds speak of a balance shift between darkness and light.

Soon, by the soft silver glow of the waxing Full Worm Moon, shy salamanders will venture from their hidden nooks to find a vernal pool. There they will deposit their gelatinous egg masses — thus insuring the perpetuity of their species.

Before long redwings will appear in the marshes, tilting on slender cattails, flashing scarlet epaulets.

Suckers will seek the riffles.

Peepers will trill from ditchside puddles.

And someone who restlessly braved the mud and went to the woods will call to gleefully say they found a patch of blooming pastel hepaticas!


Rest assured, March is the doorway to spring — a blessed doorway now starting to swing welcomingly open!

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