Wednesday, Apr 04 2012

Fits and Spasms: Winter turns to Spring

by Jan D. Axtell, Staff Naturalist

Spring often comes to Vermont in fits and spasms. The same can be said about winter’s exit. The seasonal ebb and flow is a process that is not unlike an unruly toddler at a nice restaurant. That is to say things may start out as planned, but you never know what is going to happen from minute to minute. As a parent of an almost 2 year old, I can say I have written off an evening of fine dining with my family for quite some time. As a naturalist, though, I am fascinated, confused, confounded, and delighted by the transient state of mountain weather, especially at the turn of the seasons.

On my tours I am often asked to explain or provide some insight to the season’s transitions and the vagaries of the weather. Talk about pressure. How does one explain the 70 degree swings of temperature we enjoyed last week? How does one explain Mona Lisa’s smile? The simple fact is, one cannot. The weather is just that, the weather. No matter how hard we work to insulate ourselves from it one cannot deny that ultimately there is no control over the whims and fancy of Mother Nature. It is also probably the reason why the weather is the most talked about subject matter in the history of humanity.

For the uninitiated this is a bit disconcerting. We are all pretty used to having control of things, or at least believing we are in control of things. Getting what we expect is often as simple as either turning the thermostat dial or punching a few buttons on a key board. The weather is a simple reminder of how little control I have, especially if the electricity goes out.

So we are left to adapt. A day at work often involves two or more changes of clothing. Not in the sense of a fashionista, but rather in the way that one dresses to meet the ups and downs of a day outside in these beautiful hills; regardless of temperature or precipitation in whatever format it is delivered. In doing so we state that we are not apart from nature but rather a part of it.

If you look close enough there is very much an order to the chaos that defines the transition of winter to spring. It is not just snow disappearing from the trail system, although that is most certainly one aspect of it. The overall trend is of spring’s rebirth. A single day is only a small cross section in time of what goes on. Stringing those days together is what tells the story of how winter turns to spring.

A day often starts with the crunch of a thin layer of new snow left from the night and ice skimmed puddles in the driveway. It quickly changes to a damp and muddy path as the snow melts. Eventually, the mud dries and one often returns to their start on dry trail and it is as if the early morning snow did not exist at all. As the sun sets and the temperature again drops we are left to ponder whether a fire in the stove might be appropriate. It is all delightfully manic.

As we string these transitional days together we find that the sun rises earlier and sets later, new bird songs call out from the forest with increasing intensity, and new green shoots rise up from the ground between brown husks of last year’s growth. A larger pattern takes shape until we reach our zenith at the summer solstice.

Yes, we are moving through spring, one day at a time. The weather forecast is calling for fits and spasms as winter slowly gives up its hold on the Green Mountains. I delight in every quirky aspect of this time of year and revel in the lack of control I have over the ebb and flow of life. These are great days.


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