This month on the calendar, the one we refer to as March, is a most curious part of a twelve part harmony. Set aside, by itself, it may seem discordant with the other eleven members of this chorus that we call a year. It can be out of tune with winter and in tune with spring. Or, it can be out of tune with spring and in tune with winter. Or so it seems. As with any great harmony, sharps and flats, can be pleasant to listen to when they harmonize with the notes that wrap aound them. As do the months that rest on both sides of March.
I have often wondered why many, if not most, humans are resistant to change. We live in a sea of change. The earth rotates on its axis. Our planet spins in an elipse around the sun. We grow older. No two days are alike. Seasons come and seasons go, but they are all different. It is as if although we have evolved within this constant flux we have never been truly comfortable in its midst. And it is this discomfort, this effort to stablize our environment that may be the cause of our lack of harmony with our world. Perhaps we are the sour note unaccompanied by harmony.
During this month we call March, at least in the temperate regions, we transition from the ferocity of winter to the gentleness of spring. Winter can be down right daunting. It culls the weak. It is cold. It can be bleak. It is anything but forgiving. And it takes no prisoners. Spring, on the other hand, is the time of rebirth. The planet waxes from cold, quiet, slumber to warm, vivid, song. The landscape turns from chromatic to technicolor. Life transitions from quiet to celebration. And this month, the month of March, we get to witness this transformation.
A few days after a late winter snow storm I am wandering the New England landscape on snowshoes. There is more than two feet of heavy snow under my feet. The snow that lies next to the ground is from Decemeber. The snow on the top is from the end of February. There was other snow in between but it has melted during thaws in both January and early February. The air is still on this day. The woods are remarkably quiet save an occasional song by a black capped chickadee. The two notes whistled by this bird start on a high note and end on a long note. It is used by this bird for locating other chicadees, particularly mates. It is a song of love and is, perhaps, the first song of spring in these parts.
I take a moment near a large yellow birch to catch my breath. I am struck by the contrast of late winter. Although the landscape is still frozen it is much brighter than it was in January. The sun, high in the sky, casts shorter shadows where trees intercept its solar bliss. I am experiencing the notion of long shadows versus short shadows in the forest. This visual evidence is very comforting. It is somehow so tangible it requires little thought.
In my local travels this winter, both about western New England and on the world wide web, I became keenly aware of how intolerant people have become of winter. People scowled at cold weather and winter storms and praised prolonged warm periods. It is as if winter has become inconvenient. It occurs to me that those same people may love the beauty of the temperate forest. This small region of the world, one that supports deciduous hardwoods and cool season conifers is unique. It is generally not too hot in the summer and has what some people consider to be the most beautiful autumn on the planet where trees go ablaze with colors of red, orange, yellow, and purple. And yet these trees require winter to survive. Their ecological needs have evolved over tens of thousands of years. And the fact is that they need four distinct seasons to flourish. And one of them has to be cold, snowy, and fierce.
This idea of seeing the beauty of a cycle, a complete lap around the sun, in our temperate climates may have grown old for some people. But the issue remains, the sum of the whole maybe greater than its parts. This Gestault point of view, a distinct way of looking at the world, speaks the truth. In order for us to see the real beauty of this planet we must be tolerant of that which is savage. For every negative there is a positive. It is the balance that holds beauty. Beyong the two opposite poles there is an entire universe of wonder, grace, and natural elegance.
As the temperatures climb above freezing the snow softens underneath my snowshoes. It is slightly more difficult to navigate. It is wet, slippery, and heavy. I know that the snow turning to water will filter through the snow and help to warm the surface of the soil. Some of it will run downhill underneath the snow and replenish small streams. The small streams will flow into brooks and rivers where the sheer volume of water may overtop the river’s banks. Soil will be deposited on nearby floodplains supplying nutrients for the plants that enjoy this environment. I am struck by the complex nature of this month we call March. It seems so complicated and yet it is so simple.
When I reach the peak of the mountain in our woods I come across some black bear tracks in the snow. By evidence of the prints a mother bear has emerged with her cub. Last autumn brought little valuable forage for bears. The lack of acorns, beechnuts, seeds, and other fat producing food sources means that bear hibernation was short this winter. Their topor started late and has ended early. The mother bear now seeks food so that she can nurse and feed her cub. I follow the tracks for a short time. They are direct and do not meander. This is indicates to me that the sow has located a food source using her keen sense of smell. The trail stops at a deer carcass. A young deer that evidently perished during the harsh winter months. It likely died early in the winter. The bear had to dig through the snow to uncover the corpse. It is a miracle that the local eastern coyotes did not find this food source. This grisly death of the deer now holds life for the mother bear and her cub. Only bones and gristle are left behind. Even most of the hide has been consummed. The naturual scales have been tipped in the bear’s favor. Judging form the great number of impressions in the snow the bears foraged here for quite some time.
The bear tracks continue to the east. This trail leads straight to the bottom of this hill some 700 feet below. As the sun approaches the western horizon I understand that night is approaching and it would be best to head back to the homestead.
As the sun wanes the wet snow begins to set up as cold envelopes the forest. The snow, now crusty with frost, crunches as I take each step in my snowshoes. My noisy presence is certainly noted by other animals who use the forest. Even the birds seem quiet as I trek towards home.
About a quarter mile from my house I stop and look to the west. The horizon is red and gold. Black silhouetted trees stand out from the vibrant background. And for the first time this year I can hear the voices of multiple birds. It is somehow symphonic. There are sharps and flats, whole notes and half notes; there is even a rhythm section provided by a pileated woodpecker.
It is March. It is a curious note in a twelve part harmony that we call a year.
And yes, the contrast between the ferocious winter and gentle spring will never be more evident because this is the month of redemption.
March completes the circle.
Written for www.wildramblings in March of 2013.