February ends as March awaits. The weeks immediately ahead will carry us from winter into spring.
At least that’s our usual expectation.
We normally concede February to the province of full winter. Any unseasonably warm days were simply viewed as gifts — appreciated, but never taken for granted.
Still distant April, on the other hand, counts as undeniable spring. Yes, the month can produce the occasional harsh winds and chilly days, sleety rains, or even a squall spitting snow … but such behavior is only a temporary setback lacking genuine conviction.
March separates the two — a blustery, temperamental divider between seasons. Neither winter nor spring, but a mix—cold and snowy one week, sunny and warm the next. A taunting, teasing month whose days can go either way.
I frankly find this unpredictable, constantly-alternating nature disconcerting. For me, the weeks of March present the most challenging time of the year.
Hopes and enthusiasms rise and fall, ebb and flow — emotional tides on a wishy-washy between-the-seasons sea. I make my outdoor plans, try to altered them accordingly as weather conditions change, and all too often, end up end up scrapping them entirely.
A friend once wryly remarked that, come March, he could never quite decide whether to count on going fishing or sledding.
I told him he was preaching to the choir. …
A point which I understood, because it’s this unpredictable, alternating nature I find so disconcerting.
Of course no green-blooded Irishman can feel too unkindly toward the month containing St. Paddy’s day. Nor can the outdoor minded fail to notice that March ushers in the vernal equinox and thus, the official onset of spring.
However, the real truth of the matter is this time around, we’re not talking the usual winter-to-spring transition … because our current winter has been anything but typical.
Except for a snowfall and brief stint of bitter cold a few weeks back, this has proven to be an abnormally mild winter. Almost a non-winter by historical Ohio standards. If not sufficiently unseasonable to make the record books, certainly a far more benign presentation than we battle-scarred senior Buckeyes have come to anticipate.
Several of my forsythia bushes put on bright yellow-gold flowers back in January. I’ve had crocus in bloom in various corners of the yard for at least two weeks! A neighbor’s snowdrops appeared a month ago, along with several big patches of yolk-yellow aconites.
Unfortunately, because of a couple of eye surgeries — and especially their weeks of pre-surgical and post-surgical demands—I’ve not been able make my usual rounds afield to favorite woods, fields, and local wild places. Which means I’ve been severely restricted in my customary seasonal monitoring rambles.
Alas, I don’t know what’s currently budding or blooming out there — or what plants did so a month ago! But I’d be willing to bet the mottled purple-pink spathes of skunk cabbage have been poking up in boggy corners for awhile. And I wouldn’t be surprised to find a clump of pastel hepaticas nodding atop certain riverside bluffs.
The seasonal pulse is already beginning to throb with the protoplasm of life—both hemoglobin red and chlorophyll green. Sap is stirring, commencing to rise. Blood is quickening, as migratory and reproductive urges awaken. Deliberate, natural reactions to the inexorable turning of the great celestial wheel.
Even during my few brief excursions while keeping various medical appointments, or running everyday errands, I’ve spotted signs of an early seasonal turn — groundhogs out from their snug burrows, grazing hungrily on whatever greenery they can locate; turkey vultures tilting and circling overhead.
Along my home portion of the river, Canada geese are already pairing off, beginning their usual clamorous defense of mates and nesting territory. And the backyard gray squirrels are zipping about treetops in leaping, frantic, high-speed chases.
Both goose and squirrel obviously feel the invigorating fizz of procreative dynamism. And I’ve been observing such annual occurrences long enough to know that this year, things are starting particularly early.
It has been said that man measures while nature responds. We keep our calendars and almanacs and journals, looking to them to track the seasonal progression. As if we might somehow schedule a daffodil’s bloom — or tell the toads when to start their trilling!
Nature simply acts, taking its cue from sun and wind, earth and sky. It’s the differenced between the contrived and the elemental. For the earth-wise, this is one of those years when we need to allow the season find its own pace.
So forget calendars and schedules. Remember that time and season are elastic, unpredictable. Nothing we control. Just sit back, relax … and enjoy letting spring find its way to your doorstep.
Jim McGuire, a nature columnist, resides in Englewood, and can be reached at [email protected]