Is it safe to come out yet?
Talk about conflicting desires. On the one hand I cannot wait for spring to come, and so I’m subconsciously urging it to hurry and come on.
But on the other hand, I know it would be better if the seasons unfolded at their proper pace, if buds were not fooled into popping open by sudden warm spells in early February, if the bulbs take their sweet time stretching their long, green bodies out of the earth, if the earth itself had time to absorb all the spring rains and be invigorated by the rushing of the wild spring winds.
I don’t want to wish for something counter to the way Nature has laid her plans.
Honestly, when the seasons unfold preternaturally quickly, the specter of Global Climate Change is always lurking in the back of my mind. But climate change doesn’t necessarily translate to a warmer season or a shorter winter, as the assumption often is (the fault of its nickname, “global warming,” I suspect).
Here in the Southeastern United States, I’ve had a valuable resource in my grandfather and his old-time farmer friends, who can tell me with absolute certainty that they used to plant the “spring” or first corn crop in mid-February, just as an example. An entire crop rotation is no longer possible because there’s almost always a late freeze now, often coming as late as April.
Climate change has meant a more erratic season in general, although Granddaddy insists it still has a cyclical predictability to it. And his predictions are usually right, so I listen up. For 2010, his prediction is a wet and chilly spring, a rapid transition to summer temps followed by a definite period of what we call “Blackberry Winter” in late May, and then a hot and pretty dry summer, although not with the kind of drought we had a couple of years ago.
All of this is based on what he’s seeing in Northwest Georgia, mostly from the kitchen window or the porch. I despair of ever attaining his knack of observing the rhythms of the land.
Today is Groundhog Day, a purely North American tradition (layered atop a European one, Candlemas, which itself is a Christian holiday laid on top of an ancient pagan observance). February 2nd we wait anxiously to see what the newly awakened groundhog (or woodchuck, as they’re known around here) thinks after he comes out of his burrow. Supposedly he’s testing the air for spring, and many believe he has resources of intuition that we humans do not.
If it’s a bright and sunny day and this little animal sees his shadow, well, then we’re in for six more weeks of winter. Six more weeks. I literally don’t think I can take six more weeks of this.
I’m not kidding.
Personally I’ve been hoping for overcast skies, so dark that the little fellow sees no hint of his shadow. By tradition, this means spring is “right around the corner.”
This morning, it’s been raining here in Seneca. I don’t know if there’s a local woodchuck lined up yet. I’m planning on checking the town paper later to find out.
Otherwise, my groundhog climatologist of choice will be “Beau,” a.k.a. General Beauregard Lee — yes, we all need collective therapy down here — a resident of suburban Atlanta who has been commended twice by The National Weather Service for his forecasting accuracy. The general lives in a traditional Southern mansion with white columns and his own mailbox. In case you have questions for him.
I’m still not kidding.
Beau isn’t brought out on a schedule like the famous Punxutawney Phil, but comes out whenever he feels ready on the 2nd of February, and he’s already come out today, testing the moist, chilly air, glancing around for his plump shadow.
Spring is right around the corner.
Now I don’t believe in a silly human convention for testing the weather with an animal emerging from hibernation. (Or, in the case of poor little Phil, sometimes being dragged from its depths in the middle of a New England winter.)
But when I heard General Lee’s prediction, my mind’s eye immediately filled with images of blue skies stippled with tender white cloud; a hillside wreathed in golden daffodils; the forest’s edge frothed with dogwood and redbud; the streets lined with Bradford pears, startling white against the blue dome; the azaleas, like young girls in their Easter dresses, dressed up in pink and salmon and cream; and everywhere that green that is almost golden, shining with new life, translucent to the light.
No matter how many times I tell myself to be sensible, to not wish for the earth to rush her seasonal pace, the truth is that my heart is always singing the same song of longing at this time of year. Sometimes its melody is easier to follow, and sometimes it fades to a whisper in the background of my days. Its lyric is simple:
Come, Spring… and welcome!