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There is snow on the ground in Paradelle and the Polar Vortex visited us this past week. The ground is rock-hard. Nothing is budding. But I saw my first robin today.

robin

There are a lot of things that are supposed to indicate that the spring season is near. That silly groundhog in Pennsylvania who was pulled out of his home, saw no shadow (Duh, it was cloudy) and so it is supposed to be an early spring. NOAA says Phil the Groundhog has a 40% accuracy rate over 133 years – about as good as a coin toss.

It is a sure sign of spring when I once again watch the film Groundhog Day, and whatever the weather might be, I get into the Zen of that film.

Animals pay no attention to calendars, but those that hibernate or spend more time  inside than outside (like most of us) during winter do sense a warming climate. There are also internal clocks that will signal that it is time for them to emerge.

It made a kind of sense to people at one time that if they observed an animal (bears in France, badgers in Germany, groundhogs in America) emerging but then heading back inside, it must “know” something about the weather ahead.

You can also be a sky watcher like the ancients, who paid more careful attention to things up there. The movements of the Sun and Moon were very important and today is a “cross-quarter” day in the solar calendar. Today falls exactly between a solstice and an equinox.

Though it might not feel like it, consider that winter is halfway over and spring is on the celestial horizon – whether it looks and feels like it outside. I have definitely noticed that there was a longer day(light) the past week.

Many nature and garden folks look to the plants in their neighborhood for signs of spring. But I can’t say that I have found them to be much more accurate than groundhogs. I saw some bulbs poking above ground back in December, but they stopped their progress. I have a patch of crocuses that get full sun all day in front of my home that always bloom a week or more before the others.


Take the snowdrops I have outside. When they bloom, it might be snowy and they add some white (and green) to the landscape. But Galanthus nivalis will bloom when they are ready no matter what the weather happens to be. They are early bloomers.  Mine are not poking out, but we have a warming week ahead, so they might break through.

Cultures and religions all have some type of seasonal celebrations. The Celtic holiday of Imbolc is an ancient one that honored Brigid (or Brigit), goddess of fire, poetry, healing, and childbirth. February first is Saint Brigid’s feast day.

The ancient Imbolc (from the Old Irish imbolg, meaning “in the belly”) is thought to have come from his time being when ewes became pregnant. Those would be the spring lambs. As February started, Saint Brigid was thought to bring the healing power of the sun back to the world.

Christians took the pagan holiday and repurposed February 2 as Candlemas Day (Candelora in Italy).  Though it is to mark the presentation of Jesus at the temple 40 days after her birth, the ceremony is to bring candles (and Brigid’s crosses) to church to be blessed.  So it offers the elements of fire and a birth.

 

May Brigid bless the house wherein you dwell
Bless every fireside every wall and door
Bless every heart that beats beneath its roof
Bless every hand that toils to bring it joy
Bless every foot that walks its portals through
May Brigid bless the house that shelters you.

 

What made that robin return to this cold northern place now? Birds that nest in the Northern Hemisphere tend to migrate northward in the spring to take advantage of emerging insect populations, budding plants and an abundance of nesting locations.

Though the vast majority of robins do move south in the winter, some remain and move around in northern locations. Robins migrate more in response to food than to temperature and fruit is the robin’s winter food source. I haven’t seen any robins in my area since autumn, so I assume they went south.

American Robins eat large numbers of both invertebrates and fruit. In spring and summer, they prefer earthworms, insects and some snails. they also eat a wide variety of fruits, including chokecherries, hawthorn, dogwood, sumac fruits and juniper berries. One study suggested that robins may try to round out their diet by selectively eating fruits that have bugs in them.

The April Full Moon this month comes late in the month, as do all the remaining Full Moons for 2018.  The April full moon is typically known as the Sprouting Grass Moon, Egg Moon, Fish Moon, Pink MoonPlanting by the Full Egg MoonNight of the Planter’s MoonSeed MoonBlood Moon (which only occurs for some Full Moons and is not really an April event), Mini Moon When Ducks Return and the Growing Moon. It is obvious that this is a time when our focus is on the true flowering and growing of spring.

Had the Full Moon arrived early in April this year, I could have written about snow and winter hanging on, but by this time in the month spring has finally taken hold and there have been a few days that already felt like summer.

My seeds have all started inside and are waiting for that last frost, which in Paradelle can still occur in May.

I’m not a believer in lunar cycle gardening which is an old mythological approach to gardening. The “science” of it is not very strong, but you can use the lunar cycles as a way to plan your gardening. But there are some scientific studies that suggest the changing gravity pull of the lunar cycle affects the water level in soils and even seed and plant cells.You can go look into that theory a bit here.

I plant based on my own calendars kept over many years of when things have sprouted, bloomed and yielded a harvest.

The ducks and geese never leave here for winter and they are grabbing the sprouting grass at the parks, golf courses, and around the ponds.  If you haven’t gotten the mower out yet and see some dandelions popping up and blooming, you might consider leaving them be for a while. They are one of the early flowers for the bees to feed on.

In the Neo-Pagan tradition, this is called the Awakening Moon.

Don’t forget that for anyone in the Southern Hemisphere this could be called the Harvest Moon or Hunter’s Moon.

green blue

Schools, both K12 and colleges, have been on spring breaks the past few weeks and maybe some are yet to break. It only took two true spring days in Paradelle for me to feel the sap rising in myself. I went outside and cleaned up around some flowerbeds. I started some flats of seeds. I got the garden hose out of the basement and turned on the water to outside.

The season will slap me with cold nights and frost and maybe even snow again, but it has all been put in motion and there is no turning back.

Spring cleaning is usually more associated with cleaning a house, but we clean out in other places and in other ways too.  Spring cleaning might be more of a ritual in cold winter climes, but it occurs in some way in every culture.

We use the term metaphorically for other kinds of cleaning or organizing activities. I read suggestions to do some tech spring cleaning.

There has been a lot of talk about Facebook, social media and privacy this past month.  One writer was suggesting that we may have too many online friends. He suggested some cleaning and pruning of “friends” that aren’t friends on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and elsewhere.

I see the point, but I won’t be doing that. For example, I have a lot of “poetry friends” in these networks. Some are people I know who are real life friends, but more of them are people I have met at a reading or workshop or only know as a name online will likely never meet in person. I see no reason to separate from them.

I have been editing Poets Online since 1998 and have had thousands of poems mailed to me as submissions. I know almost all of these poets only virtually, but some have been sending poems for 20 years. I know them by their poetry and I do feel connected to them.

This is also the season of the spring break. Usually that involves a beach, alcohol and general debauchery, though I also know of students who go on charitable missions, build homes for the poor and do personal pilgrimages.

What are we all taking a break from? The everyday. The madness. Our own overcrowded, overly materialistic days and life. Winter. School. Home. A path we see ourselves on that looks far too certain.

Like that technology spring cleaning, some suggest we take a tech break. Put away the computer, the phone and disconnect. It sounds like it might be renewing. It sounds like it might be painful.

The origin of spring cleaning is not certain. One possibility is the Persian New Year, Nowruz,  which falls on the first day of spring. Iranians have a practice of khooneh tekouni which has an interesting literal translation of “shaking the house.” It is a thorough cleaning done just before the new year, but I like the idea of shaking things up.

That cleaning makes me think of the ancient Jewish practice of thoroughly cleansing the home in anticipation of the springtime festival of Passover. This week-long observance is more than just cleaning the house and involves strict prohibitions in eating or drinking.

The Catholic church thoroughly cleans the church altar and everything associated with it on Maundy Thursday, the day before Good Friday, as part of another springtime observance. This religious cleansing is still observed in Greece and other Orthodox nations.

It has been nice the past few days to finally open the windows and “air out” the house.

Stravinsky’s ballet score “Le Sacre du Printemps” is a landmark in music. Its French and Russian (Vesna svyashchennaya) titles translate literally as The Coronation Of Spring, but its English title, “The Rite Of Spring,” is a bit stranger. This translation references a pagan ritual in which a sacrificial virgin dances herself to death. Please, none of you should get that seriously involved in celebrating spring.

blackberries

blackberries

“Blackberry winter” is a new season to me, but this colloquial expression is used in south & midwest North America. It refers to a cold snap that often occurs in late spring when the blackberries are in bloom.

Timing for blackberry blooms varies depending on the weather in your area and the variety. But in the warmer climates (USDA zone 7 and south) blackberries start blooming from mid-April to early May.

blackberry blooms

blackberry blooms

In cooler climates, like Paradelle, blackberries begin to bloom in late May and are not ready to harvest until around mid-July. Though the frost-free date here is May 15, there will be no blackberry winters here. It is more likely that in April our fruit trees, like apples and peaches, will get nipped.

Some people believe that a blackberry winter helps the blackberry canes to start growing.

Another blossom that can get hit with a cold snap in our region is the cherry blossom.

The cherry blossom is a mainstay image of spring in haiku poetry. Japanese cherry blossoms and the tradition of flower gazing, or hanami, has inspired poets for centuries.

Mount Fuji seen through cherry blossoms

Mount Fuji seen through cherry blossoms

cherry blossoms scatter–
snap! the buck’s antlers
come off

without regret
they fall and scatter…
cherry blossoms
~ Issa

Very brief –
Gleam of blossoms in the treetops
On a moonlit night.

A lovely spring night
suddenly vanished while we
viewed cherry blossoms
~ Basho

Drinking up the clouds
it spews out cherry blossoms –
Yoshino Mountain.

Petals falling
unable to resist
the moonlight
~ Buson

Cherry blossoms at Branch Brook Park, NJ

Washington D.C. is famous for the thousands of cherry trees sent there as a gift from Japan before the World Wars as a gesture of friendship. It is far less well known that Branch Brook Park in Newark, New Jersey has more cherry trees than Washington D.C.

But if you are in that warmer climate and you get a late cold snap so that a little “winter” hits during spring,  you have “blackberry winter,” although there are other names for this weather anomaly: “dogwood winter,” “whippoorwill winter,” “locust winter,” and “redbud winter” are all variations.

As with the different nature-oriented names for the Full Moons that are based on locations, these names are based on what is blooming in regions during the typical spring cold snaps.

In rural England, this is called “blackthorn winter”because the blackthorn in hedgerows blossoms in early April. In Finland, this is a common occurrence in April or May. They call it takatalvi, meaning “back winter.”

Last weekend was Palm Sunday.  This week is usually a time of the year when my mind blooms. I wrote this a few years ago.

Palm Sunday

Moveable feast this Passover and Easter week.
No palms here but crocuses, wood hyacinths,
jonquils, cherry blossoms, a first bee buzzing.
Yew Sunday, Branch Sunday, triumph and victory
contained in a seed, bud, pollen, flower.

The Easter holiday sometimes occurs in March but this year it falls on April first, which is also known as April Fool Day.

Easter eggs (also called Paschal eggs) are decorated eggs often used as gifts or decorations on the occasion of Easter or more generally as part of a springtime celebration. Though Easter eggs are common during the season of Eastertide, the egg being symbolic of spring is much older than the religious holiday.

Dyed and painted chicken eggs are the oldest traditional form and are still done today, but they compete with the commercial chocolate eggs wrapped in colored foil and the plastic eggs that people fill with candy, coins, lottery tickets and small gifts.

As a symbol of fertility and rebirth, Christianity adopted them as part of the celebration of Eastertide. I have read that the egg was sometimes said to symbolize the empty tomb from which Jesus resurrected, and that staining eggs red to represent the blood of Christ has been proposed. The custom of the Easter egg can be traced to early Christians of Mesopotamia, and from there it spread into Russia and Siberia through the Orthodox Churches, and later into Europe through the Catholic and Protestant Churches.

Easter eggs are sometimes called Paschal eggs as Easter can be called Pascha (Greek, Latin) or Resurrection Sunday.

A very different kind of “Easter egg” of a modern and technology-related sort is an intentional inside joke, hidden message, image or secret feature of a work. These Easter eggs are found in a computer programs, video games and sometimes in DVD menu screens. The term suggests the traditional Easter egg hunt with the hope of getting a prize when you are successful.

This usage was coined to describe a hidden message marketing device in the Atari video game “Adventure ” that led players on a hunt to find further hidden messages in later games.

In the novel Ready Player One, the plot involves several Easter eggs discovered in video games.  The novel is now a Steven Spielberg film that opened yesterday.

Ukrainian Easter eggs

 

When I stumbled half-asleep into my bathroom this morning a little past 7 a.m., the Sun was just rising over the mountain ridge due East. It didn’t signal the Spring (Vernal) Equinox for 2018, but I did sleepily think about people gathered at Stonehenge to mark an ancient ceremony.

I still have time to celebrate that equinox moment because for the Northern Hemisphere it occurs at 12:15 PM ET today. It is not like an eclipse. There is nothing to see or feel. And my Paradelle neighbors are sure to point out that there is still a lot of snow on the ground and more predicted for this first day of spring.

The vernal equinox can happen on March 19, 20, or 21. It means spring in the Northern Hemisphere, and autumn in the Southern Hemisphere. This astronomical spring begins today and will end in June. The illumination of Earth by the Sun is equal. The tilt of the Earth’s axis is now inclined neither away from nor towards the Sun. More equality. The Sun is vertically above a point on the Equator.

Our ancient ancestors knew something was happening today. Eventually, they built devices and even places like Stonehenge to measure and mark changes in the Sun’s movements.

Many of them thought the Sun was moving closer to Earth, and so the Earth would become warmer. At least that is what those in the Northern Hemisphere observed.

They were wrong,but they were correct in marking that today was midway between the sun’s lowest path across the sky in winter and highest path across the sky in summer.

My own Stonehenge – and the way I taught my young sons –  is using the windows of my home. I now know where the Sun rises in the back of my home, and where it sets in the western windows. With my sons, we one year marked those places month by month and watched the Sun move North and then South in winter from one window in the corner of the family room to the patio doors.

Today the Sun rose in the true East, and this evening it will set true West.  Take note.

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