The Nature Writers of Texas

The best nature writing from the newspaper, magazine, blog and book authors of the Lone Star State . . .

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Spring Isn’t Far Away
by Ro Wauer

There are several reasons to be joyous during late December. Most importantly, of course, is the Christmas Season, the time when Christians everywhere prepare to celebrate the birthday of Jesus. And even though that holiday in America has become more monetary than religious, it still has major significance for many of us. But another reason for joy is that spring, the season of new growth and fresh starts, is not far off, when wildflowers and northbound birds and monarch butterflies can appear. Those of us who enjoy nature relish springtime.

The turning point from fall to winter and the takeoff for spring is the winter solstice, December 21, the shortest day of the year. Thereafter, the days will gradually lengthen until June 21, the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. Increasing day lengths are so gradual that we hardly notice, at least until the days are warmer and the earliest spring wildflowers appear.

For much of the Earth there are four seasons. For those of living in South Texas the four seasons are less distinct than they are to the north. The beginnings of spring and fall are the equinoxes, a term derived from the Latin meaning equal night. The vernal or spring equinox falls on March 21, and the autumnal equinox occurs on September 21 or 22. On these dates, the dividing line between light and darkness on the globe cuts across both the North and the South poles, and throughout the world day and night are of nearly equal length.

It has always seemed strange to me that some of our coldest and most winter-like days often occur after the winter solstice, when the Earth is already heading toward spring. But that makes good sense when one understands that it take our Earth time to cool off after the warmer days of summer and fall. That is especially true for those of us living near the Gulf of Mexico, a huge body of water that retains warmth longer than the land. Cooling is a result of the Earth's position in the heavens so that our days are shorter and the winter sun does not climb so high in the sky, and its low slanting rays are spread out over much larger areas. In summer, the days are longer and the midday sun is high in the sky and the rays beam directly down on the Earth.

I suppose its human nature to wish for warmer days in winter and cooler days in mid-summer. It would especially be nice, when on Christmas Bird Counts for example, if the winter winds were a little warmer. And the cold rain could be a little less biting. Yet, for all of those unpleasant times, for those us who enjoy our time in the field, some of those experiences are most enduring.

In recent years, living near Victoria and participating in several of the Christmas Counts, I have had some marvelous wildlife experiences. Watching and hearing thousands of geese lift off their nighttime resting grounds at dawn, is something that can never be forgotten. Watching streams of ducks and wading birds and huge flocks of blackbirds move across the dawn skies can be magical. And finding some unusual bird tucked among the reeds or resting among a flock of other species can be invigorating. But just being outdoors, being part of the wintery conditions and winter birdlife, are for me the turning point from one good year to the next.

For all of my readers, especially those of you who have read each Nature Note over the years, may your year end with many blessings and may this Christmas Day be filled with love and good cheer! Merry Christmas!

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