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.
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.
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.