The quickening

By Jim McGuire - Contributing columnist

February is all but over while March draws close, set to take its place. It’s still winter, at least by the calendar, but a season whose power is fading fast.

Our recent weather has been blessedly mild, if a bit soggy. Rain rather than ice or snow.

Yet it’s wise to remember that seasons rarely launch into existence full fledged. We’re headed in the right direction, and the destination may be inevitable. But the transition is often vague — ambiguous, erratic, prone to stalls and setbacks.

For now we dwell in a sort of interregnum — one season waning while its successor strengthens.

No matter. Spring may not debut officially for several weeks. Yet the vernal pulse is already throbbing — a soft, deliberate rhythm as ancient as life itself. Its crucial message signals earth’s annual quickening.

The stirring starts deep underground, passes into bulbs and seeds, then is quickly be transmitted up and into the light via a vast network of roots and rhizomes.

A response which is both holy mystery and natural magic.

Sweet sap flows in the sugar maples. Buds on the lilacs commence to swell. Catkins start to form. The first rounded shoots of edible onion grass emerges in multitudinous clumps — little shaggy chlorophyll-green islands atop a dank, wintery- brown sea.

Reawakening, rebirth, resurrection. The quickening which rewards our faith

Remember that January night?

A banshee wind moaned around the eaves. Snow covered the iron-hard earth. And sub-zero temperatures caused even the most hurried trip to the firewood stack to seemingly risk flash-freezing your arterial blood.

Survival seemed questionable. Spring was doubtless only a torturous illusion, a figment of desperate imagination.

Yet you held tight and believed — and here we are! On the cusp of having those impossible dreams fulfilled!

Look close … a thin swath of emerald grass can be seen fringing the banks of the diminutive feeder brook which winds across the fallow meadow up the road.

Listen … an ebullient song sparrow sings his heart out from atop the bare branches of a neighbor’s apple tree on a sun-drenched morning.

Signs precious in their bold integrity. The unmistakable fusion of hope and reality. The enduring cycle is again being unfailingly fulfilled.

The quickening delivers truth!

At the fundamental core is our daily dose of sunlight. More than an hour’s worth has been added since the month began. And more will be added during the days ahead.

The earth’s axial tilt, its twenty-four hour spin cycle, and a year-long journey around the sun create the variables which account for our daylight spans and seasons.

Clocks and calendars simply measure these variables.

Of course, given our aggressive desire for control over everything, plus a propensity to self-delusion, it’s easy to see why we sometimes confuse things we simply assess and quantify for the mistaken belief we’re actually scheduling and commanding the whole operation.

Such an attitude then allows us to become impatient. Why is spring being so slow? Shouldn’t the hepaticas be out already?

Nature, on the other hand, just reacts to the inevitable weather variables. A response strategy I think we would be wise to follow.

No two springs are ever the same. Instead of wondering about where we are in a season, or complaining about what can’t be changed anyway — react positively! Get out. Go for a walk. Explore and enjoy the present.

Take a hike to some boggy woodland corner in search of skunk cabbage. Check out a patch of willows — over the next few weeks, watch closely as their withes begin to glow an incredible electric yellow-green. Poke along a fenceline in an unkempt corner of the garden an you eventually spot the tiny white blooms of chickweed.

Such forays are what I like to call “signs and wonders rambles”.

If you want a real challenge, investigate those isolated woodlands with bigger trees — especially sycamores and beeches — for already nesting great horned owls. Over the years, I’ve found several sitting birds along the riparian corridors of the Stillwater River and a couple of local creeks. Plus a nest tucked into a remote lakeside hollow where I’d slogged in to fish for early bullheads and ice-out crappie.

Want to know whether the snow trilliums have bloomed, or that huge swath of hepaticas on the ridge are up yet? Be proactive — investigate! Let others fuss and worry about spring keeping to its schedule.

Personally, I’ll take my share of winter’s last hurrah and spring’s beginning as they are — in daubs and splashes, whenever and wherever I find ‘em.

Yup, the quickening has begun … and I don’t want to miss a single glorious moment.

By Jim McGuire

Contributing columnist

Jim McGuire, a nature columnist, resides in Englewood, and can be reached at

Jim McGuire, a nature columnist, resides in Englewood, and can be reached at