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March 20, 2004

Vernal Equinox

2000 and here for first flowers

2001 and here for first flowers

2002

2003 and here for first flowers

Traditional societies typically regard the solstices and equinoxes as holidays, and I go along with them, although our modern culture does not support specific official celebrations. That’s not to say that we lack for “seasonal” holidays, but these are overlaid with other meanings, and often displaced from the astronomical dates to better accord with the weather at our latitudes. Or at least the latitudes of the northeastern US, the nation’s power center at the time when most of our holidays were instituted. Since I live in those climes, in New York, this suits me fine. I don’t even envy our friends in the south who are already traipsing in sandals and sun. What use to them is the first day of Spring?

Well of course, no one scorns the Spring, and we find ways to celebrate, be it Saint Patrick’s Day, Easter, or May Day. Just so, we honor Summer with Memorial Day and the Fourth of July; Autumn at Thanksgiving, and Winter with Christmas and the New Year. Actually, back in olde England, before the calendar reform, the New Year was identified with the Vernal Equinox, and was observed on March 25.

That was fitting in its way, for Spring is surely the most hopeful of seasons, if also the most ephemeral, suggesting rebirth more so than embalmed Winter does, whatever the shifting Sun may say. Summer simmers in lassitude, and Autumn is beautiful but sad, with death and departure all about. No, it is Spring when Life begins and prospects brighten.

Given all the opportunities there are to discuss the seasons, it hasn’t been my practice to necessarily write much on their initial dates proper. I’m more interested in actually getting out and experiencing them, in a sort of ritual, as I discussed on the Vernal Equinox of 2000. Sometimes this leads to a subsequent report, as in the picture essay from 2001. And sometimes work or weather has skewed my schedule, as in 2002, though that was preferable to last year, when the day was blighted by the advent of war, an inauspicious inauguration if ever there was one.

One thing has remained constant, even if the date has shifted. (No, I don’t mean the phrase “week of warming weather” which I seem to have used repeatedly in March posts. I suppose I should work on my alliteration, but if tracking the seasons isn’t about repetition, what then?) Each year I show what I consider to be the first flowers of Spring. No planted bulbs, or imported ornamentals blowing to an alien rhythm; it is our own native Red Maple that marks the onset of the season, in particular the gnarled and battered specimen that persists in the midst of the Wildflower Meadow. Who knows how long this tree can stand? It bears wounds, and has lost the better part of what was once one of its highest branches within the time I’ve watched it. All the more reason it holds my heart. The beauty of beginning and the beauty of the end are but bridged by the anxious joy of being, and for us Life is that which is not Forever.

The Eternal may be the source of Life, but the two are not quite the same. Rather we partake of an image, like an angel drawn by flailing limbs in the late-fallen snow of a failing season. So every repetition is an imperfect rehearsal of the next. But this year’s flowers are the best that we can do.

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