Musings on the Vernal Equinox
Today is the first day of spring, and after the winter we’ve had in my little corner of the world, it really means something this year. Normally, the first day of spring comes and goes, and I pay it little attention. Our winters in recent years have been more of a series of protracted springs than real winters. Oh, sure, we had a few days when it snowed, and a few bitter days, but for the most part until this past winter, we spared the cruel onslaught of never-ending cold, wild, harsh winds, and snow piled up to the tops of fences. After the brutal, savage, unrelenting winter from which we are just now emerging, this particular first day of spring means a lot to me.
I will celebrate it.
And let me point out, I am not being an out-of-touch-with-reality dreamer this year. I know that just because today is the day of the vernal equinox — the day when the sun, in its long trek northward from the Tropic of Capricorn, crosses the equator – it doesn’t mean I’ll be out sipping tea in the gazebo. There are cold days to come, some of them, I’m sure will remind me – with a not-so-gentle slap in the face, that winter really hasn’t completely loosened its icy grip. And we’re going to have more snow and more cold; I’ve lived more than long enough to know that the first day of spring is nature’s biggest teaser — winter’s still out there somewhere, defying the natural progression of things, trying its best to defeat the eternal circle of life, obstinate and contrary, bound and determined to make us miserable, at least a few more times, before it hides in its dark and gnarly cave until it wakes again next December. Even winter belongs in the cycle of thing — it has its place. Without it, I wouldn’t be celebrating this day.
After winter’s death took away the last of the bright and beautiful autumn leaves, vacuumed away the last of the forest’s living things, and left the once majestic woodland trees looking like sad, dark, forlorn skeletons, brittle and silhouetted harshly against the eternally gray winter sky, I expected another typical winter — cold, but not brutal, a few days of snow, and of course that relentless cold wind that winter always brings. But I never expected to be shut in, and nearly shut down by the most brutal winter in decades.
Until today, ironically, we’ve had snow on the ground since November; save for a few brief respites, the snow has covered everything, everywhere for months and months. Storm after storm reloaded the yards and the sidewalks and the roads with more snow. There were piles of snow at the end of my driveway I would have sworn were going to take until mid-June to melt. These were towering snow mountains at least eight feet high. I should know, I built them with my own hard labor, using nothing but a snow shovel and energy and strength I didn’t know I had. But today is the first day of spring, and those monuments to my suffering and to winter’s cruelty are gone. Winter toughened me, I guess. It nearly defeated me this year.
And don’t get me wrong: there is beauty is almost everything if you really look for it. A snowflake, when examined closely is a beautiful, miniature, crystalline world. Many times I stopped by woods on a snowy evening – “…the woods are lovely, dark, and deep…” and admired the stillness and beauty. Tree-skeletons were perfectly beautiful when dressed in white. I saw the beauty of winter but then, after it buried me, and nearly froze me to death, and made it difficult to travel from place to place, I had a hard time finding anything beautiful about it. No matter how hard I looked, I couldn’t find anything resembling beauty in it at all.
Maybe this is the old “familiarity breeds contempt” thing. But I doubt it. I think even the kids were tired of the snow and brutal cold — and they’ll be a little resentful, I think, when they look out the windows of their classrooms and see the beautiful blue skies and the white cottony clouds sailing by while they sit inside making up days missed because of winter’s mischief, they will remember, miserably, that everything, even days off, comes at a cost. I understand that some of the students in our state will be going to school until the middle of June this year – about 2 weeks longer than usual. And they’ll be the last victims of the past winter, whose icy tentacles will survive long enough to reach deeply into the warm, sunny days of June…at least for them.
Today is the first day of spring, and I’m sure, as I gaze out the window, it won’t be particularly springlike – in fact, it will be colder and windier than yesterday, which was, they say, the last day of winter. But it won’t stop my celebration. I’ve already raised a toast to the vernal equinox this morning – with my coffee cup held high and my eyes looking up – “And here’s to spring, may she be warm and gentle — and sunny”.
Walking outside, I feel winter still clinging the gusts of wind that surround me, but looking down, I see new life all around. The shoots of daffodils, crocuses, tulips, and hyacinths – alive and waking from the darkness and the dead cold of winter. They are celebrating spring with me, although I don’t think they know it or care what I think.
Life and hope spring anew on this first day of spring.
The first day of spring may well be more symbolic than meaningful. The sun crossing the equator today really means little to us right now, except we know that the sun is headed back home to all of us in the northern hemisphere. And in a few weeks, spring will beckon us all outdoors, and we’ll be planting gardens, mowing lawns, and this year especially, repairing the damage caused by the longest, most brutal winter we’ve seen in decades.
Today is the first day of spring. I may fly a kite today, or jump in a rain puddle, or take a walk, or maybe just make someone smile – even if spring is spring in name only – this year, it’s a day to celebrate. I may still be wearing my winter coat, my gloves, and my hat today, but that won’t stop me from doing something childlike to celebrate this special day.
Perhaps more than anything though, today reminds me that I shouldn’t just celebrate the first day of spring, I should celebrate every day. Every day is a gift if only because I have only a limited number of them. Though winter was long and terrible, soon its savagery will be just a distant memory, and so will this day: the first day of spring.
In the grand scheme of things, we all have only a handful of days that are given to us and we should celebrate each one of them. This first day of spring reminds me how precious life is – things long dead now being reborn right here in my own front yard. It reminds me of how insignificant I am in the vast infinity of the universe. My life is short and insignificant – it doesn’t even amount to a tiny flicker in the flame of the candle of the cosmos. My mind is too small to comprehend the vastness of our own galaxy, let alone the billions of other galaxies that light the darkness of space and time. But I can comprehend that today is the first day of spring, and it is a day to celebrate, even if it’s only because spring means life is reborn.
Perhaps, though, my insignificance is really my significance. I am blessed to have had a few thousand days to look up at the heavens, to struggle through winters, and to celebrate many springs. And maybe in my insignificance, I’ve made too many mistakes on my journey. Spring reminds me today that it doesn’t really matter what happened yesterday, it only matters what happens today.
Today is the first day of spring and I’m grateful for it. The past is gone and tomorrow may never come. So, I will celebrate not only the first day of spring but another day of life. Looking back, I know I should have been celebrating every single day. But I’m just a person like everyone else. If I’m lucky enough to have many tomorrows, I’m sure I’ll forget to celebrate each day the way I know I should.
Those mountains of snow? Meaningless. Those harsh miserable biting winds of winter? Just memories. All I really have is today. Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow may never come. But I do have today, and I’ll make the most of it.
“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That’s why they call it the present.” (Bill Keane)