The Harbingers of Spring

No matter where you live, spring is fickle. Around here, it arrives unexpectedly-usually in mid March. Winter temporarily loosens its grip, the sun sends temperatures soaring into the 50's, ice and snow give way to the sound of running water, and the thick, fresh smell of hummus hangs in the air as the soil begins to thaw. Your senses start to sharpen, your body starts to come alive, and suddenly you're filled with a sense of inspiration and hope. "Yippee!" you shout. "Spring is coming!" Then comes the inevitable heartbreak. The clouds roll in, the mercury plummets, water turns back into ice, and spring retreats for a few more weeks under another blanket of wet, heavy snow.

Spring's Official Arrival

The vernal equinox usually lands on March 20 or 21 of each calendar year. We can beg and plead all we want to, but we gardeners have nothing to say about it. The movements of the sun and stars are solely responsible for determining its official arrival. On this day, everyone on the planet experiences a day that has an equal length of daylight and darkness (sans those that tamper with daylight savings time). As the Earth continues orbiting around the sun, the days will start to get longer in the northern hemisphere and shorter in the southern hemisphere. Of course, what the calendar says is of little consequence to the plants and animals in the garden. It may also be of little consequence to use gardeners. After all, some of our springs start as early as January, while others of us may be kept patiently waiting until May.

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The First Signs to Watch For

Wherever you live, keep an eye out for the very first harbingers signs of spring.

  • In the sky: the sun is higher in the sky and feels stronger, flocks of Canadian geese and song birds are flying north now; lady beetles and slow moving flies start gathering along window sills indoors and along crevices on the outside of the house and garage.

  • In the trees: changing colors from swelling buds; dripping sap from gnawing rodents and branches lost over winter; blooming forsythia and pussy willow catkins; and depending on where you live, the return of crows, cardinals and blue birds.

  • On the ground: flocks of robins or flickers hopping about the yard; flowering bulbs like crocuses and snowdrops blooming, and tulips starting to poke through the ground; squirrels chasing each other madly around the yard; scrubby looking deer shedding out their dark brown winter coats; patches of green grass around the bases of trees; and the first appearance of weeds (yes, they are excited for spring, too!).

  • In the water: ice on lakes and ponds turning color from opaque to clear; the appearance of deep blue water as the ice moves out; muddy-looking water created by suspended sediment where melting snow runs off into rivers and streams.

The First Signs to Listen For

If you take a moment to step outside, you will be amazed at just how different spring sounds.

  • In the sky: migrating geese and songbirds flying overhead.

  • In the trees: new songs from arriving songbirds and the changing songs of local winter birds.
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  • On the ground: the sound of dripping or running water.

  • In/near the water: the songs of chorus frogs and spring peepers; loons yodels; the call of red-winged blackbirds at they attract their mates and compete for territory.

Has spring arrived where you live? If you were to ask a dozen people what their favorite sign of spring is, you would surely get a dozen different answers. What is yours?

About The Author: Ellen Brown is an environmental writer and photographer and the owner of Sustainable Media, an environmental media company that specializes in helping businesses and organizations promote eco-friendly products and services.

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April 16, 20080 found this helpful

Great article, love the picture, thanks for sharing!

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