Relay: Spring, You Fickle Tease

It’s the length of the day more than its temperature that forces the season to shift

    It almost always feels like spring will never come, that the daffodils or forsythia are late, that the osprey have missed their return date, that the robins surely should have started their nest-building and infernal crack-of-dawn window-striking already.

    Despite the chill in the air, the ice crystals on the ground, or the occasional snow stubbornly remaining in the forecast, my unscientific study of spring’s arrival tells me this: It’s the length of the day more than its temperature that forces the season to shift. I could Google that, but I don’t want to.

    The tulips tend to open the same week of the year that they always do, regardless of the cold. Ditto the forsythia. The buds grow fat on the maple right on schedule and around mid-April the magnolia on the corner of Methodist Lane that I pass every day on my way to work will be blooming. It hardly seems possible now because I want it so badly. That’s how it is with this season.

    Among the hats I wear here at The Star is that of photo editor, and often by the end of March/early April I can see the photographers’ weariness with the season in the sameness of their photos. How much can you do with browns, blues, and white? Enter the cat, the yawning cat, dog on bed, dog at beach. Lovely silhouette of leafless trees? Did it in December. Snow? Please no.

    There are fewer photographs because there is less to be inspired by, and sometimes while I’m looking for a photo pairing for our letters pages or a shot for our editorial page I find myself looking in desperation into the photos folders from previous years. If I need, say, a picture of skunk cabbage for Larry Penny’s “Nature Notes” column, I might search nine years of Marches to find one.

    I notice through the pictures that almost every first week of April, give or take a few days, the same varieties of bulbs are pushing their way toward the sunlight. Forsythia? I find it in full flower on April 20 one year, April 27 another. Magnolias appear as early as April 13, cherry blossoms one April 19, lilacs on April 26.

    I warn myself that it’s been known to snow as late as April 15. I remember covering the groundbreaking on the Accabonac Apartments in my early years at The Star as snow piled up around the base of already blooming daffodils. And there were odd warm years, like 2007, when January was balmy enough to force the buds on a row of cherry trees on Pantigo Road, or 2012, when I could pick broccoli at Quail Hill all winter long.

    Spring is a fickle tease. It plays hard to get so we love it even more when we’ve finally got it. One day it’s 60 and sunny and you smell earth in the rain, the next it’s 32 and the sky looks like snow.

    I’ve seen the robins massing in the yard. There’s that one again, the one I curse at all spring, eyeing the spot above my bedroom window for his nest. Soon he will start battling his reflection for control of the turf. No matter what I hang in the window to let him know it’s a window, he’ll wake me up every morning when the sun is barely up, just to let me know that, yes, spring has finally arrived.

    Carissa Katz is The Star’s managing editor.