I always know it by the light.
In my previous apartment, I’d awaken on or around equinox morning to find that the sun had shifted far enough due east that it sent a shaft of light right into my tiny bathroom, casting an otherwise fairly dark space with fresh buttery rays.
Last week at work, I surprised myself when I shrieked loudly and called out to coworkers: “Come look. The light has made it all the way around the building!” And, in fact, it was pouring in (at a generous 5:30 p.m.), casting a spotlight on the accumulated winter-season cobwebs and dust in our sweet little market.
Being a girl from the north country, I can understand why ancient Indigenous peoples spent years building elaborate stone structures aligned with the solstices and equinoxes. Many years ago, I attended the spring equinox “light show” at Dzibilchaltún outside of Merida, Mexico.
A bit more elaborate than my tiny bathroom light show, the event drew hundreds of people to watch the sun rise and be projected through a tiny hole in an ancient stone temple at the precise moment of spring’s arrival. It was truly incredible to witness the shaft of light line up with the small opening in the rocks and then expand and magnify out in all directions. I often flash back to this experience when light returns to our Vermont land after months of cold, snow, and darkness.
Some say Vermont has six seasons (the usual four, plus mud and stick). As much as we would like to slide headlong into some kind of idyllic spring, here in the north woods spring appears with hesitation, fickleness, and a kind of humorous mockery. Late spring snowstorms leave us flabbergasted and mildly inconvenienced. “Winter has finally arrived … in March,” we exclaim to each other smiling, yet internally feeling done.
When I search for springtime images for a workshop I’m offering, I’m bombarded by cotton-candy skies, bright bluebirds, and the tulip fields of a faraway land. Here in Vermont, things appear to be a tad less flamboyant. I copy a few images to my clipboard, then delete them fearing they will make me an imposter, portraying our spring in a completely false way.
Then there are the times I am beckoned by a day of rogue warmth (45 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit). I close the tulip fields on my computer and head out for a “spring” walk. Our third mud season quickly erases the “six season theory” and I’m pushed to the valley floor since our mountainous road is clearly too muddy to enjoy.
The sun is warm and bright; two Canada geese land in an open field; and the first of the red-winged blackbirds trill high in the treetops by the river. Robins hop around, flirting with each other on a foot of warm crusty snow.
It is now still light at 7 p.m. and the air has a quality of nostalgia and rebirth. I’m taken back to spring evenings in Massachusetts, complete with skunk cabbage fights and the smell of charcoal grills coming back to life. Easter was typically mild on the south shore: the first daffodils showing their bright faces by the mailbox in our suburban neighborhood.
Vernal (fresh or new) equinox in these north woods often finds us weary, tired, and ready for change. I like to imagine the black bears after a long winter slumber. They awaken with their tiny cubs and emerge from dens to find a cool, damp world without a tulip or daffodil in sight. I envision them looking around and deciding to go back to sleep for a few more weeks.
I find myself empathizing with the woodland critters as they navigate the journey from dormancy to aliveness. I feel this, too, the longing to burst forth and bloom in conflict with the part of me that wants to keep hibernating.
We patiently await the peepers and help the delicate little miracles that are wood frogs make it safely across the road. If we get to see a spotted salamander, we are especially lucky. Ode to the spring creatures who appear humbly on dirt roads on misty spring nights and disappear into fleeting woodland pools.
So what is spring? Rather than being a season that matches our hopes and ideals, it has an essence that I keep in my heart. And I open my senses to the very real magic that is absolutely worth the long work of winter. Every day there are new surprises: The first ephemerals bravely poking from under dry oak leaves, rowdy barred owls calling back and forth at dusk, and the once-brown river turning clear and turquoise.
It’s not a big colorful show, but it’s ours and it’s beautiful.
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