Phenology Journal: The Collapse of Winter

The exact end of winter came well before the most recent thaws, arriving unseen in the coldest weeks of the year when the March and April bulbs followed their own subterranean schedules and pushed up beneath the snow.

The cardinals, titmice and doves noted the temporal shift, even though the weather was harsh and the landscape white. While the sun and birds are already well on their way to equinox, however, the vegetation that now appears across local yards and gardens has changed little in the past weeks; it easily becomes a definition of the fulcrum that balances winter on one side and spring on the other.

Walking through town on Valentine’s Day, I found that some daffodils were two-inches high, and a few tulips and hyacinths were up at least an inch. Snowdrops, snow crocus and aconite were ready to bloom. Lilac buds were swollen, fat green and gold. Even on the old pussy willow branches, a few catkins were cracking. Garlic mustard, wild mallow and henbit were growing new leaves. A monarda patch showed half-inch foliage. Chickweed, wild strawberry, celandine, wild onion, hollyhock, sweet William, lamb’s ear, lungwort, dandelion, motherwort, and great mullein had remained intact from fall and were waiting for a little more sun.

Spring is as much a state of mind as a state of nature. The beauty of a seasonal inventory is that there is never a correct number of things to find. The end of winter always appears in the eye of the beholder. Critical mass for the arrival of spring rests less on the total quantity of observations than on one crucial scent or sight or sound that tips the scales of private time. Each person encounters that pivotal event at a different moment and in a different way. Whenever that realization does occur, then the entire scaffolding of the old year collapses and the pieces of the new year take on meaning as they come together.


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