‘Spring is sooner recognized by plants than by men”
“Springtime is the land awakening. The March winds are its morning yawn.”
Walking in Mt. Airy and Chestnut Hill these last two weeks has been very interesting and invigorating. There has been an air of expectancy along Germantown Ave. as more and more people have been out and about. The weather has been a big part of it, of course. We have had days in the 60’s and 70’s that brought everyone out of their homes and onto the streets. And we have also had day like today which have started near freezing but by mid-day are in the 40’s and 50’s. Despite the occasional days of temperatures in the 30’s for an entire day, we are in the midst of seasonal change now, and for most of us that is a most wonderful thing. Even though we have not had the miseries of winter to the extent that many places along the East Coast have had this year, we still had winter. And for many of us the official calendrical end of that season is a cause for rejoicing.
The calendar says that spring arrives on Wednesday, March 20th at approximately 4:58 PM. That is true; this is the astrologic and calendar time when the vernal equinox happens. The sun shines directly on the equator, the length of day and night are about equal, and what we call “spring” is officially here. But there is also another time for spring, and we have been in the midst of it for a little while. We have had clear hints of spring well before the equinox; that is what stoked our expectancy a few weeks ago. On many of the lawns in Mt. Airy and Chestnut Hill daffodils and snowdrops have been pushing up their shoots and quietly making their appearances for at least the last two weeks. Purple, white and yellow crocuses have been adding color to fronts of houses and backyards. Little red buds have been visible on the many cherry trees in the city. Robins, mourning doves, house wrens, and chickadees are back at the feeders and in the trees. The cardinals, who have been around all winter, are now pairing up and singing their songs more loudly and boldly in the early morning. We look up and there are more and more hours of sunlight, and the average temperature for the week has been above freezing. This has been going on in the Northern Hemisphere for several weeks now, and it is what is called, “meteorological” spring. And it always arrives before the calendarial spring.
Weatherpeople and climatologists check temperature averages and climatic conditions and use those as a guide to when a season begins and ends. When a level of consistency in these conditions arrives, we have, according to them, started a new season. To them it has been spring for a few weeks now. For them the climatic reality in our Northern Hemisphere has already started that time of rebirth and renewal-the time when the earth says, “Lets go through this again.” Our landscapes and surroundings have already started being born again. We have been waiting for the calendar to catch up.
For most of human history this time has been the start of the new year. Spring is when the earth seems to come back to life and everything around us is being reborn and/or remerging. The whole universe seems to 'start over” with animals emerging from hibernation, moving into different locations for a while, and mating. It’s a time when flowers, plants, and potential crops reappear, and the ground seems aching to be fertilized. It is a time for rebirth on a massive scale, and it is inevitable and unavoidable. We as humans are a part of that universe, so we also say, “Let's start again; let’s begin anew.” It is a time when “possibility” lives again; we can even imagine doing it a little bit better this time. In culture after culture all around the world we humans embrace this time in the age-old way we acknowledge anything that is important to us; we do it symbolically. We participate in many religious observances and rituals which focus on stories of rebirth and renewal at this time, whether it is Christianity’s Easter, Judaism’s Passover, the Persian house cleaning and fire jumping ritual of Noruz, or the Chinese dancing in lion masks to scare away bad spirits that may have moved into the house in winter. We do it culturally as well. We literally “clean house,” often redecorating, getting the garden ready, and sweeping out the old and letting in the new. We change our wardrobes, buying new clothes and wearing fabrics that have a lighter color scheme. We paint the house, plant gardens, and more. Humans have to acknowledge the changes in the universe, and we have to do things to show that we acknowledge them. And just as it is in nature, this buildup to the main event is as important as the main event itself.
Nature is in part, a process or series of processes. It is not as if on March 19th nothing is happening and then suddenly, “BANG” spring is here. Spring is the result of dozens of steps-smaller occurrences and changes that lead to or result in the big event. The meteorological spring can be looked at as Nature’s way of “prep’– of the universe building up to and taking steps towards the big event. That crocus on the lawn, the loudly singing cardinals, the budding cherry trees; these can be looked at as Nature’s prepping for the big event and giving us a hint of what is to come. They are nature’s “Trailers” or “Coming Attractions” Likewise, the rituals we humans do to celebrate spring are generally not single day or single event affairs. They are a series of steps and events leading up to the major event. Easter and Passover, for example, have steps and actions that precede the actual event, and they happen over a period of time. Like Nature we move toward our main events. Most of them are simultaneously results of what has gone before as well as indicators of what is to come.
So spring is here now. We can savor and enjoy the increased hours of sunlight, the gradually increasing temperatures, and the re-coming to life of lawns, gardens, woods and more. The cycle is continuing, and we humans work to find our place within it. I hope that for all of us it is a celebration of life and of looking toward a more hopeful future. For me, that is one of the promises of each spring and each of the rituals connected to it. We can endeavor to make some changes, learn some new things, find some improvements, and maybe even do better this time around. To me that is a huge part of what is about: hope, becoming, and possibility. Enjoy the season.