Here’s an adventure from March 15 which was a beautiful Saturday in the Kentuckiana area with temperatures in the low 70’s! I spent so much time at the Falls of the Ohio on this day that I even managed a very slight sunburn. Like much of the country (particularly east of the Mississippi River) we are so ready for winter to be over. This particular day turned out to be a tease, because less than 24 hours later, temperatures plummeted and we had an accumulation of snow! Most of the people I know are tired of their winter wardrobes, which also means triple the laundry load. We are ready for the greening and warming of the earth. On this particular foray to the river, I was on the look out for any signs of spring. I came across this young groundhog basking in the sun near his hole. He turned out not to be very social.
He need not worry about me. I wasn’t going to blame him for the extra long winter. Here’s the back story. February 2 is Groundhog’s Day and the myth goes if the “official” groundhog that resides in the small town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania sees his shadow on this particular day…winter will be extended another six weeks. Well this year, that captive groundhog which was yanked from his burrow by human hands did see his shadow and surprise…spring was predicted to be late in coming. I did a little back checking on the Groundhog’s Day tradition and here’s what I found from the official website. The idea is based on the Candlemas Day observance that Pennsylvania’s early German settlers brought with them in the 19th century. This passage was quoted as the rationale for Groundhog’s Day…”For as the sun shines on Candlemas day, so far will the snow swirl in May.” I’m not sure what the source for this quote is…but snow in May? What is this some kind of ice age legacy handed over through deep time and what’s with the groundhog? The official Groundhog’s Day observance was established in 1887 and groundhogs and woodchucks the country over have been stigmatized by it. This particular groundhog was having nothing to do with people and retreated down his burrow.
On this trip to the Falls…I visited the far western section of the park and wanted to see if I could find any signs of spring there. I did find lots of river-carried junk, but will save some of that for another time. I did stop by my favorite cottonwood tree that has been for many years, a popular place to hang out. I saw a sign saying that it is now being called the “Hobo Hut”. I came across a nice group of young people with theater and writing backgrounds who were going to party there. This seemed to me to be as good a sign of spring as anything that can be learned from a large rodent. After exchanging pleasantries for a few minutes I moved on. Before long, I ran into this character and he educated me about spring.
This is the Harbinger of Spring and I chanced to come across him on my walk. He told me he had “heard” my thoughts and musing about spring and decided to introduce himself to me. It was a warm day and once again I was out here without drinking water and if this were indeed a hallucination…at least it was a friendly and pleasant one. He had a reassuring smile on his face to go along with the glowing yellow flower on his chest and shock of leaves sprouting from his head. I decided to just go with whatever would happen next and here is that story.
Contrary to popular belief, the official arrival of spring has nothing to do with groundhogs or even the vernal equinox. Spring arrived by boat to the Falls of the Ohio and I just happened to stumble across him as he prepared to do his work. The Harbinger allowed me to tag along to see the preparations and ground work needed for winter to transition to spring.
According to the Harbinger, the first thing that needs to happen is an increase in the intensity and duration of sun light. While I stood quietly nearby, the Harbinger willed the sun into the correct position in the sky. This was manifested by my magic friend’s ever lengthening shadow and the warmth I felt on the back of my neck. Not much can occur if the sun doesn’t cooperate.
The next step is to awaken the plants and begin the “greening” process. I watched the Harbinger sit on a dormant clump of loosestrife and open his arms. I heard a barely audible melody that I could not identify and heard it more through my mind than my ears. According to the Harbinger, the “greening” begins by warming up the simplest plants that are connected to the water. In this case, mats of algae were turning bright green before my eyes.
The land plants came next. I observed the Harbinger walking over to a clump of grass and green blades began to grow out of the gravel. This process would continue through all the flowers, shrubs, bushes, and would culminate with the appearance of the first tree leaves. The familiar animals would then return. My friend told me that this process took great effort and patience and could not be accomplished in a single day. For now…he was through, but over the next week or so he promised dramatic results. I parted with the Harbinger as he settled into a cavity formed in a living tree. For now, the sun tiring of its efforts was setting and evening was fast approaching. The Harbinger would spend the night here and resume his work when he felt the conditions were right to do so. I had one more surprise coming. As I turned and walked away…a red flower appeared at the Harbinger’s hole and the sun began to sink in the west. See you next time from a greening Falls of the Ohio.