The calendar tells me Spring isn’t supposed to arrive until March 20th. With a heavy frost and the thermometer reading 24 degrees Fahrenheit this morning, it seems the weather agrees. Yet, according to the ancient Celtic calendar February 1st is the first day of Spring, a season traditionally called Imbolc, referring to the time when ewes come into milk for their newborn lambs and new plant life begins to emerge from the soil. I can’t help but think that people whose survival depended upon their skills in tracking weather and seasonal changes, know a thing or two about the arrival of Spring.
The mountains might still be asleep for the winter under a thick blanket of snow but here in the western lowland slopes of the Pacific Northwest, it’s remarkable how Spring-like it is when I start to pay attention. Despite the fact frost shimmers on every blade of grass and I feel like a character out of some bleak Thomas Hardy novel as I hack the last of the carrots out of the frozen ground, there is a warmth to the sun that I swear wasn’t there a week ago.
There are two all important factors that trigger the changing season, temperature and changing length of day. The signs are subtle but there are hints that Spring has arrived.
In the bud…
I’ve noticed the buds on the trees have been getting noticeably fatter, especially on the Indian Plum just outside my window. It turns out the all important environmental cue for buds on trees to begin opening in the Spring is largely temperature related. Trees need a period of dormancy and prolonged exposure to the cold of winter before the warmth of spring signals chemical changes coaxing the buds, containing the miniature beginnings of the year’s new growth, to break out of their protective covering. The timing of bud break varies depending on geography, species and annual fluctuations in temperature. Here in the Pacific Northwest we can rely on the Indian Plum to remind us that it’s Spring in February.
A riot of flowers…..
…and I’m not referring to Valentine bouquets here.
There are hints that romance or to put it more bluntly, plant sex, will soon be in the air. The hazelnut, alder and willow trees on the edge of the field are full of catkins, long clusters of single sex flowers. The drooping flowers will soon be dusted with pollen which, with a little help from the pollinating services of the wind, will be showering the world in a generous coating of yellow.
Birds of a feather
and two male Anna’s hummingbirds, their heads ablaze in a fiery rainbow of fuschia and gold.
And bird song…
The nights are definitely getting shorter. I’ve grown used to my early morning run in the dark with the dog yet the last few days the sky has been less navy blue and more of the palest robin-egg blue. I’ve noticed a few birds have begun to stake out their territory in earnest, perching on a branch or post, to sing out their claim. The lengthening daylight also signals a need for males to perfect their courtship song to attract a mate. The sounds will only grow louder as Spring advances and returning migrants add to the chorus. Who knew that songs of posturing and arguing could sound so beautiful!
The memo that Spring has arrived must have gone out to the long-toed salamander I found yesterday by the side of the trail next to the pond. It is one of the earliest amphibians to wake from winter hibernation and by the end of February will have produced egg masses resembling black-dotted balls of jello wrapped around the stems of water plants in the pond.
The Spring memo also went out to:
- My elderly chickens who have started to lay eggs after a break for the winter.
- The skeins of snow geese flying overhead in a generally northerly direction as if trying to decide if now is really the time to head true north.
- The banana slug who appeared in the vegetable garden.
- The bulbs I planted in the Fall that are just poking through the soil.
And finally, what could be more convincing than the fact that we’ve just placed the seed order for Spring planting in the vegetable garden.
I rest my case! The “old” Celtic calendar has become my “new” calendar. Spring has sprung.