I left spring behind in England, missing the reported return of chiff-chaffs to Norfolk by two days. I’d heard of other migrants arriving—stone curlew to a secret site, for one—at the same time the last of the winter redwings were leaving, heading north. The blackthorn was in full flower, the local woods were full of primroses between the stiff green stalks of bluebells poking through the leaf litter, and the wood pigeons were courting in the garden.
Outside my window there is freshly fallen snow, on top of the several centimeters already on the ground. Tomorrow is the first official day of spring, and the forecast is for warmer weather, but also for more snow, falling in the cold nights.
But I will have a year of two springs. Already the turkey vultures are back, and the hooded mergansers; red-winged blackbirds buzz in the swamps and flocks of tundra swans whiten corn stubble fields a little further south and west. Sap is rising; maple syrup is being made.
Over the nine weeks I was in England I watched the field across the road go from stubble to fresh-ploughed soil, gulls and rooks following the tractor, to the hazy green of an emerging cereal. The belt of trees up on the hill changed colour subtly, the dull grey of winter overlaid with the golds and pinks and greens of swelling buds. The blackbirds and robins began singing earlier every day, and continued later.
It’s harder here in my suburban bungalow to watch the gradual shift into spring than it was in my edge-of-village house in England. But I intend to return to paying attention this year. Almost fifty years ago, the first serious writing I did was a journal of the coming of spring to my southern Ontario home, a project sadly interrupted by mononucleosis and a month of exhaustion. That too was from an edge-of-village, mostly rural setting. But I have easy access to woods and fields, rivers and parkland, and little excuse not to observe and record. A.E. Houseman wrote:
Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.
And since to look at things in bloomA Shropshire Lad
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.
Of my threescore years and ten, sixty-five will not come again. So I shall go look at things in bloom, and listen to birdsong, and watch the gradual transformation of a winter world.
Image by Noma Lotern from Pixabay