"The winter's rains and ruins are over,
Frosts are slain and flowers begotten
Blossom by blossom, the spring begins."
-Algernon C. 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 greet 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 still on the ground in the North, and the danger of
frost lingering in the air, you have to come lower in the hemisphere to
guarantee those two "first days" will arrive on the same date.
Besides the snow and the frost, I remember at least two other unmistakable
signs of a Northern spring: mud and floods.
Our dirt road was so muddy during those seasonal, snow-melting days that the
school bus could come no closer than a mile from our house. "Better you get
stuck in the mud than the bus," our folks said.
So with dry shoes in hand, and rubber boots on our feet, we children took
that daily walk in our mile-long - each way - stride. In the morning, when
our rubbers met the paved road, we put on our shoes and lined our muddy
boots across a kind lady's front porch. When the school day ended we removed
the poor lady's mud and rubber collage, reversed the footwear process and
took to the muddy road again.
After a particularly cold winter, however, we had more problems than just
mud. With ice easily three to four feet thick on the rivers, there never was
a slow, steady meltdown, like a tray of ice cubes warming in a picnic sun.
Instead, the ice broke into huge, jagged chunks, which then tried to follow
nature's course downstream.
But more often than not the miniature icebergs would ram together and
reassemble into a solid block of ice, creating a dam that sent the river
over its banks. Sometimes that out-of-bounds river water merged with the two
creeks near our house and bequeathed my brothers and me an extra week of
"spring break." And in those years our boots were no help at all.
But not all signs of a Northern spring were as treacherous or unpleasant as
mud and floods. I also remember tiny vegetable plants poking their leafy
heads from their tin-can pots on the windowsill; and new calves, lambs and
piglets making their noisy debut from the barn. After a long, dormant
winter, spring is the most alive season of the year no matter where you
Spring 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 other words associated with the image of life
"springing" again from the earth. The latter image, by the way, at least for
the English-speaking world, is how the season got its name.
Artists and composers capitalize on spring, too. 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," spring itself has a new life/new love "spring" in her step.
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. E-mail comments to seabara@aol. com.)
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