The Nature Writers of Texas

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

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Spring is in the Air
by Ro Wauer

I have long been smitten with spring. I have even wondered if my late-March birthday, right after the spring equinox, is somehow related to my love of spring. Maybe I was introduced to spring as a tiny baby, imprinted with that glorious time of year. One of my earliest memories is a song I learned as a youngster, “When It’s Springtime in the Rockies.” For growing up in the Rocky Mountains – the Grand Tetons were visible from the edge of town – I anticipated spring all winter, so that I could hike the Teton trails and see, smell, and feel springtime in the Rockies.

Anticipation of spring is evident for peoples throughout the world. Spring profoundly influenced the ancients and played a significant role in mythology, folklore, and art. In America, spring in marked by an abundance of festivals, weddings, special days such as Arbor Day and May Day – and spring cleaning.

Numerous authors and philosophers have expressed their anticipation of and joy over spring. There is a Chinese proverb stating that “spring is sooner recognized by plants than by men.” Author Thomas Wolfe wrote that “spring has no language but a cry.” Anne morrow Lindbergh wrote: “Today I went out. It smelled, it felt, it sensed spring. I had for the first time faith – not intellectual belief, but a sudden feeling of turning tide. Yes, there will be spring.” And humorist Dorothy Parker observed, “Every year, back spring comes, with nasty little birds yapping their fool heads off, and the ground all mucked up with arbutus.”

The revelations of spring vary from subtle nuances that only a seasoned naturalist can detect to much more obvious clues, such as a purple martin returning to its ancestral nest box, the discovering of the first violet or bluebonnet of the season, or hearing the roar of a territorial alligator. Clues are all around us if we so much as open our eyes and see the signs of the new season.

For South Texas, there are a host of spring heralds, ranging from birdsongs to new wildflowers to those more subtle indicators such as the scent of fresh earth to the taint of onions to the sweetness of huisache blooms. My spring usually comes as a trickle when the January days are mild. Most obvious, perhaps, are the scattered songs of cardinals and mockingbirds. It seems that the full songs of these two full-time residents are first to express their enthusiasm for the coming season. Those vocal signals urge me to look more closely at some of the shrubs and trees. And on close inspection, I often can find a few groundcover herbs in flower – bluets, prostrate lawnflowers, tenpetal anemones, and yellow woodsorrels – several shrubs have buds that are close to fulfillment – agarito, coral honeysuckle, and redbud. But one shrub, the viburnum, may produce its drooping, white-flowering blossoms as early as the last of January. And by taking up a watch nearby, I am likely to find a few early butterflies: cloudless sulphur, little yellow, gray hairstreak, gulf fritillary, common buckeye, and American lady.

Yet these signals of the new season are, for me, only indicators of better things to come. But it is now only a short wait for the northbound migrants to appear, for our purple martins, chimney swifts, and painted buntings to return, and the summer butterflies that utilize our abundant flowering plants to appear. It was Richard Hovey who, in 1898, wrote: “Spring in the world! And all things are made new.”

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