Earth Journal

Vol. 9, No. 2
Jan. 11-17, 2001
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In Season: Cardinal

by Gary Pendleton

O Wind, if Winter comes
can Spring be far behind?
—Percy Byce Shelley “Ode to the West Wind”

There can be no doubt, not this year. Winter has arrived in earnest, that’s for certain! The signs of winter are obvious: days are short, creeks and rivers are icing over and heating oil trucks are abundant on the roads. Even as I write, it is snowing.
But as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, however meekly, spring is creeping slowly toward us. Be on the lookout for the subtle signs of spring’s emergence. The shortest days of winter are already past; daylight will lengthen from now until June. The first wildflower of spring, the unlovely skunk cabbage, blooms even in frozen swamps and marshes. The tight buds of red maple trees are slowly swelling. By March or April, they will make a red haze in the trees before it all turns green. If the forecast is for sunshine with a high near 50, the weatherman could add an item to the script: A cardinal will sing in the afternoon from an exposed southern perch.
I am thankful for winter in earnest, for a kind of winter that has the backbone to hang in there. Not because I favor winter for its own sake, though it has its charms. One advantage of a diligent winter is that it forces spring to proceed at a stately pace so that it may be savored. Indeed, the best part of winter is spring’s sequential encroachment.
In the garden, the sequence goes crocus, daffodil, forsythia, tulip. In the woods and wetlands, skunk cabbage, hepatica, spring peepers calling, bloodroot, redbud and dogwood.
I was not always possessed of this sensibility. A younger me might have noticed the forsythia when it bloomed, but any more subtle signs of spring were lost, and I thought the color wasted, coming too early, before the real spring. Now I understand. I am ready for spring — but let it take its time getting here.

Copyright 2000
Bay Weekly