Heralds of Spring

It is said that no universally accepted event heralds the spring. Meteorologists marks the season's beginning on March 1. For astronomers and most of us, spring arrives on the vernal equinox, which falls somewhere around the 20th of March, depending on the year. Still others have a more personal marker for the start of the season: the first flush of the yellow daffodil, the return of birdsong in the early morning hour, or the first flower on the dogwood tree. In 1736, the English naturalist Robert Marsham started to document 27 "Indications of Spring." For 62 years, without interruption, he recorded the dates different trees came into leaf, flowers bloomed, frogs first croaked and butterflies appeared. He noted the first swallow of the year as they flew over Stratton Strawless in Norfolk at the end of their 6,000-mile journey from southern Africa. Marsham's observations became the basis of phenology, the study of the effects of the seasons on plants and animals.

We have passed the vernal equinox, and the day is now officially longer than the night, but I am still waiting for spring. The crocuses have come up, and the robins are back in town, but we've had a freezing rain for the last two days. The sun is now peeking out of the clouds, at the end of an unremittingly grey day, setting the brick buildings across the street aflame. I am heartened at the sight of my bleeding heart plants pushing through the ground and know that spring cannot be far away.

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