Things to Come

March 21, 2013, the west side of our home in Heath, MA.

Today is the second day following the vernal equinox. At our latitude we have gone past the point where there is an equal number of hours of daylight and night time. We will continue to gain daylight until the summer solstice when the light hours will slowly begin to dwindle until we have the maximum number of night time hours at winter solstice. This seasonal clock repeats itself every year and will have different impacts depending on where you live. The further north or south of the equator the more dramatic the changes. Existence on a nearly spherical planet knows no equality. Like life in general there is no real sense of fair play relative to geography.

In our part of the world spring signifies rebirth. It is supposed to be the season of tree buds breaking, green plants emerging from the soil, birds building nests, and the birth of many animals. And all these items will occur, depending on the exact nature of the weather, of course. The end of our winter, at least the last month and a half, had been generally cold and snowy. The day before spring, that is two days ago, we had another 15 inches of snow. There is now close to two and a half feet on the ground. A healthy, but not intimidating, depth for this time of year. The extended forecast calls for more cold and potentially snow over the upcoming 2 weeks. That’s not a bad thing. It is simply New England.

I think there are many regions of the country that use the expression “If you don’t like the weather around here stay for a day.” New England is the preeminant leader of fickle weather. Caught on the edge of several main high air currents, the nearby Gulf Stream in the Atlantic Ocean, and terrain that varies from coastal plain to mountains, our weather can change at a moment’s notice. I have no complaints about this. I like weather surprises. And I like all weather; the abundant variety is the foundation of our particular part of the world and the plant and animal life that lives here. And to be real honest, I am very happy to get a temporary reprieve from the effects of global warning/climate change. This, perhaps, temporary return to “ole New England weather” is a welcome happening. There may not be too many more “regular” winters around these parts.

The deep snows that insulate the ground will hold frost in the earth for a few extra weeks. The emergent growth of vernal plants will be slightly delayed. But come they must and come they will. Like a freight train that cannot be stopped sprng will emerge from the long dark tunnel of winter, maybe a little behind schedule, and perhaps quite suddenly.

Our first spring flower in these parts is the coltsfoot. This plant, brought from Europe a couple hundred years ago, is found along the edge of streams or along moist gravely roadsides. It likes wet seeps and the yellow flower, stongly resembling a dandelion, also produces a parachute seed that is swept away by the wind. I love wind borne seed. This loving act of seed dispersal is poetic. By sheer chance a wind blown seed landing in a position favorable to future germination will spread the DNA of the parent plant to parts unknown. In my mind this fits into the “free spirit” category. A life style very near and dear to my way of thinking.

The first green emergent plant in our area is false hellebore. This plant grows rapidly to several feet in height. The leaves of this plant are distinct. They are large and have heavy parallel veins. An indiudual leaf curls downward like a wave crashing to shore. The plant has a remarkably short appearance. From emergence to complete decay may all take place in 7 or 8 weeks when a long dormancy period begins again.

Last year's phoebe nest.

My favorite avian arrival of the spring is the phoebe. These bright little birds nest on the side of our house. They will reuse last years nest or build a new one out of sticks, moss, and mud. They somehow perch the nest on the one inch ledge of a piece of trim that frames a second story window. The nest is tucked up under an eve where it never gets direct sunlight. It is such a pleasure watching the two parent phoebes after the chicks have hatched. They land on a nearby branch, their tail bobs up and down, watch for prey, and grab an insect right out of the air before returning to feed it to their yound. Dad does a lot of the hunting early on while Mom stays with the chicks, but as the days get warmer and the chicks get larger both parents hunt nonstop in search of food for their growing family. Phoebes have some simple, beautiful songs to sing as well. Any day with Phoebes around is a good day in my estimation.

This constant rotation of the seasons. One more lap of the Earth around the sun. One more year in the life of this observer. One more chance to appreciate and behold the beauty of all that we have and share.

One more glimpse of all that ever was or ever will be.

Written for in March of 2013.

  • Teresa Evangeline

    Bill, This is a beautiful post. I love your images and have set the coltsfoot as my screensaver, I trust you won’t mind… I, too, can relate to your description of it as a “free spirit.” I need to pay closer attention to those sweet little Phoebes. Thank you for opening my eyes more to their lives.

  • Wild_Bill

    The flower with the parachute seed is actually yellow goats beard
    (Tragopogon pratensis). It has a seed dispersal method similar to both
    dandelion and coltsfoot. Yes, plants can have “free spirits” too. I find many similar qualities between plants and animals. And phoebes, appearing ordinary to the untrained eye, are a natural delight. They are athletic, good parents, and very cheery! Three admirable qualities.

  • Guy

    Hi Bill

    A nice post I love phoebes as well. I enjoy how they try to perch on the tallest thing in your yard. One day while I was dismantling a wood scaffold one would perch up about eight feet, as it got smaller it chose then next highest section, finally it was perched on a 12 inch 2 x 4.

    All the best.

  • Wild_Bill

    Great phoebe story Guy! That sounds just like a typical phoebe! They are wonderful birds.

  • Montucky

    I love the variations of spring too. I found it interesting that False Hellebore is an early plant in your area. I’ve found it here only at higher elevations (around 6000 feet) and only in July and August. I wonder if it is the same species. The one here is (Veratrum viride).

  • Wild_Bill

    Yes Veratrum viride. Given the altitudes that you have I’m not too surprised that you find it later. I know when I go to norther Quebec every year that I find plants blooming in summer that bloomed much earlier in New England. The interesting part is that they have different plants that bloom earlier, many of which we don’t have at all. I suspect the same would be true for your area. For instance the plant you see above on the bottom is common sarspirilla. This photo was taken in mid July in northern Quebec. This plant blooms in late May in our area.

  • Emily B

    Ah, this makes me so eager for spring, but also conscious of how patience does eventually win out. I’ve been reading/thinking about mythology lately, and all the fertility myths are perfect for this time of year. Lovely photos, Bill! Hope you’re enjoying this time of transition.

  • Wild_Bill

    How wonderful to have a new baby in your arms and greet spring! Enjoy each and every passing season each and every year. The next 20 years of life will be a blurrrrrrrrr………
    I love transitions. It is these in between times that offer so much hope. The old passing the torch to the new! How wonderful for us all.

  • Barbara

    Wonderful essay Bill – love the poetry of your descriptions.

  • Wild_Bill

    Thanks Barbara. Hoping all is well with you! What’s the weather like where you are?

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