A week ago I awoke groaning at the arbitrary national clock that moves time backward and forward with the seasons. Our method of calculating the first day of spring based on the vernal equinox is somewhat less arbitrary. That arrived in Maine yesterday at 12:30 AM.
We woke up to snow this morning. My bedroom and studio both face east into the woods, which create the perfect foil for snowfall. All the hints of spring we saw last week—the red osier and willows developing color, the soil thawing into mud—are invisible in this low light. There is no way to tell if it is October or March.
I always thought the equinox was the point when the sun shines directly on the equator and the length of day and night are equal. That’s not exactly true. The equinox is the moment the sun crosses the celestial equator, an imaginary line above the Earth’s equator.
Candlemas, Lupercalia, Groundhog’s Day, Imbolc, and St. Brigid’s Day all fall in the first week of February. What they really mark is the mid-point between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox, providing a breath of hope to the hibernating northern landscape. When we consult Punxsutawney Phil, we are just a very small part of a long stream of humanity so craving warmth and light that we throw a party because winter is half finished. However, that also means the answer to Punxsutawney Phil is always “D’oh!” His day is just a calendar fact, not a predictor of anything. Winter will end earlier in the south and later here in the north, just as it always does.
Every year I try to rewrite this sentence appropriate to the Northeast: “March comes in like a lion and goes out like a…” Wild boar? Flame-breathing dragon? Charybdis? What winter seldom does is go out meekly, like a lamb. In general, late March in the northeast is anything but Spring-like. While our southern friends are all gardening, we are bundling up to shovel those late-season snowfalls. We’ll flirt with frosts and snow until early May.
All of which would be grand if I could just lie here meditating on the snow fall. Alas, there are packages to collect at the post office, and paperwork I must do. This is the mundane business that sometimes threatens to swamp our creativity, but it is part of life and the passing of the seasons.