American Robin (Turdus migratorius) keeping an ear out for worms
I haven’t been on WordPress much lately, so I apologize for not making the rounds of all your wonderful posts, but I’ve been engaged in a much-needed and long overdue activity: job-finding. This was the number 1 item on my 17 for 2017 list, and I’m happy to report that, after a January-long search, several interviews and a couple of days of orientation, I started a new job last week! It is in a field I know well but have been away from for several years, so it’s good to get back to the familiar, where I can put my skills to good use. This new situation, however, will bring a learning curve, new challenges, and, no doubt, a fair deal of stress. I expect a surprise or two each day, but as I settle in, things will become easier.
For this blog, as February turned quickly to March, I didn’t have a clear vision for a monthly theme. I looked at the calendar. Yes, there’s St. Patrick’s Day; I’m one-quarter Irish, so I might give this a nod. The most significant event seems to be the Spring equinox, which graces us here in the Northern Hemisphere on Monday, March 20 at 6:28 a.m. EST. (It occurs at the same moment worldwide, despite differing time zones.) The first day of Spring, and all its fresh promises! Given the positive change in my working status, I finally had a theme for March: New Beginnings!
The word equinox comes from the Latin aequus (equal) and nox (night). This is what The Old Farmer’s Almanac has to say: On the vernal equinox, day and night are each approximately 12 hours long (with the actual time of equal day and night, in the Northern Hemisphere, occurring a few days before the vernal equinox). The Sun crosses the celestial equator going northward; it rises exactly due east and sets exactly due west.
Meteorologically speaking, the official Spring season always begins on March 1 and continues through May 31. This is based on annual temperature cycles rather than the Earth’s position relative to the Sun. Planting is done according to the gradual increase of sunlight, warming temperatures and a thing called Phenology (Greek for science of appearances) – watching for nature’s signs. Did you know, for instance, that it is generally safe to plant radishes, parsnips and spinach once the crocuses have bloomed? Or that perennials can be planted when maple trees begin to leaf out?
I think we all practice a bit of phenology as we eagerly look for signs of the new season. In March, worms begin to emerge from the earth, giving rise to this month’s full moon name: the Full Worm Moon. Birds have already begun to migrate north, following the path of the Sun. Here in southern Ontario, red-winged blackbirds have been here for a week or two, to keep company with small pockets of hardy, overwintering robins. (The rest of the red-breasts will surge north to join their cousins – and pick off all those worms – any day now.) Song sparrows are usually the next to follow, and cardinals have been singing their exuberant heads off for quite some time. Birdsong is, in fact, triggered by the increasing sunlight; I’ve always thought that birds sound happier on warm, sunny days.
The pale promise of Spring
Some trees and shrubs, such as pussy willows and forsythia, are setting out buds. Crocuses and snowdrops have been flowering in sheltered areas; tulips and daffodils won’t be far behind. Amphibians such Spring Peeper frogs and hibernating mammals are beginning to wake and stir from their cosy winter dens. Just yesterday, a friend who lives in the countryside remarked upon the annual re-emergence of George, a six-year-old female woodchuck, from her burrow beneath the deck. George, my friend is happy to report, looks sleek and well-rested and quite ready to face another sun-filled season grazing on clover, dandelions and all those freshly-planted crops!
While there is little historical evidence that ancient peoples of Britain and Europe honoured an equinoctial god or goddess, there is speculation that Xáusōs, a Proto-Indo-European goddess of the dawn, may have given rise to Eostre, the Anglo-Saxon dawn goddess, and to Ostara, the neopagan moon goddess of Spring and fertility. Modern pagans celebrate Ostara at the vernal equinox, considering it one of the eight major festivals of the Wheel of the Year. Thousands gather at Stonehenge to mark the equinox sunrise through the ancient stones. In Japan, Vernal Equinox Day is a national holiday spent visiting family graves and holding family reunions.
Symbols of new life are starting to abound; soon there will be bunnies and egg-painting and baskets filled with improbably green “grass”. Folklore tells us that the Spring equinox is the only time of year when an egg can be stood on its end. While I’ve never tried it myself, I’ve read that this is just a myth. Clover and other three-leaved plants were considered gifts from the faeries to bring protection and good luck; they were co-opted into Christian symbolism, particularly associated with St. Patrick, as a representation of the Holy Trinity.
The practice of Spring cleaning stemmed from the desire to rid the home of old or negative energies accumulated over the dark winter months. Some people drink dandelion and burdock cordial as a rejuvenating, blood-cleansing tonic. In keeping with ancient tradition, I will most likely mark the equinox with fire – a symbol of the Sun. A pure beeswax candle, some fresh herbal incense, perhaps a few pretty purple amethyst stones to catch the light.
How will you celebrate this time of awakening, when the world seems young again and the air holds the promise of regeneration and new growth?
Tulips at the local market – a glorious sight to behold!