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Springing forward, Southern style

Posted: March 24, 2012 - 11:00pm

“The winter’s rains are over, frosts are slain and flowers begotten….

Blossom by blossom, the spring begins.”

– Algernon Swinburne

Though I’ll always miss the lilacs, lady’s slippers and shorter allergy season of my native New England, there’s no place I’d rather be on the first day of spring than in the South. For as author Henry Van Dyke observes, “The first day of spring is not always the same as the first spring day.”

With traces of snow likely still on the ground in the North, and the danger of frost far from over – even after a mild winter – you have to come lower in the hemisphere to guarantee those two “first days” will arrive on approximately the same date. I also remember a few other signs of a northern spring.

Our dirt road was so muddy during those snow-melting days that the school bus couldn’t come any closer than a mile from our house. Better we get stuck in the mud, folks said, than the bus.

We children took it all in our mile-long stride. We’d wear high rubber boots when we walked to the bus stop each morning, carry our shoes, and change at the kind neighbor’s house on the corner of the “tar road.” What a lady, letting us leave those muddy boots on her front porch until we switched footwear again for the walk home.

After our coldest, snowiest winters we’d have more problems than just mud. When the ice broke up in the river, the huge, ice blocks would literally create a dam and send the river way over its banks. That, plus a pair of creeks near our house that rose so high they merged and formed a river themselves, meant for a period of treacherous flooding – and sometimes as much as an extra week’s spring vacation from school. In those years our mud boots were no help.

But there were other spring signs, too, like tomato plants poking their leafy heads from tin-can pots sitting on window sills, and new lambs, calves and piglets making their noisy debut from the barn. After a long, dormant winter, spring is the most alive season of the year.

Spring also is the only season when, all at the same time, the grass greens, leaves emerge, plants sprout, flowers bloom, time “springs forward” and, in the words of Alfred Lord Tennyson, “A young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.”

Nor, it seems, is any other season used in so many descriptive ways: spring chicken, spring break, spring cleaning, spring fever, springboard, spring water, and a host of words associated with the image of life rising – springing – again from the earth which, for the English speaking world, is how the season got its name.

Artists capitalize on spring, too. Composers especially have long considered this season to be popular musical fare. From Tiny Tim’s “Tiptoe through the Tulips,” to Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Flowers that Bloom in the Spring, Tra La!” and Oscar Hammerstein’s love-struck “Younger than Springtime” from South Pacific, more often than not, spring has a new life/new love “spring” in her step.

Stepping from the popular to the classical music side, the ballet Appalachian Spring by American composer Aaron Copland has been a favorite of concert-goers and musicians ever since its Pulitzer Prize-winning debut in 1944.

And who but the poet Robert Browning to put this coming-alive season into words the populist, the classicist, the romantic and the just plain tired-of-winter folk can understand:

“The year’s at the spring and the day’s at the morn;

Morning’s at seven, the hillside’s dew-pearled;

The lark’s on the wing; the snail’s on the thorn;

God’s in his heaven – all’s right with the world.”

(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer and author of the recently published book, As Long As The Rivers Run: Highlights from Columbia County’s Past. Email comments to seabara@aol.com.)

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