Official New England Spring

The event of Spring Equinox, clearly marked on calendars, changes nothing for a Minnesotan – not the weather or mindset. The snow shovel stays within handy reach, next to the back door. Warm weather shirts and shorts, still weeks, if not months from being needed, remain tucked away. It’s not that Minnesotans don’t desire Spring. They’ve simply learned to not count their bulbs before they’ve bloomed.

Should an occasional patch of “nice” weather appear, it’s met with suspicion. “Yes, this is a nice day”, Minnesotans cautiously agree. “But remember, it can snow in May. And don’t forget last year. The ice wasn’t off the water in time for the opening of fishing.” I’ve noticed emigrants, those not raised in the culture, can easily misunderstand this behavior, viewing it as pessimism, negative thinking, or worse, bordering on fatalism. I’ve learned to view it, instead, as the ultimate in practicing Deferred Gratification.

Growing up in the Minnesota style, I learned to be watchful, checking buds on trees and bushes, or digging through the mulch, often first clearing away the snow, inspecting tulip and rhubarb progress. My listening skills were finely crafted, hearing the dead silence of winter’s remnants punctuated by bird song. Pronouncements of “now it’s Spring” differed. My mother would announce, usually sometime in mid-April, “My tulips are blooming. It’s now Spring”. My father’s was to gauge the amount of newly sprouted grass. My brothers seemed to judge Spring based on the sudden urge to remove the bikes from the garage rafters, able to adjust gears and brakes without need of gloves. It seemed normal to me, this game of waiting for confirmation, not trusting a particular date which would only result in disappointment.

It wasn’t until I moved away, to other less climatically-challenged areas of the country, that I realized all my years of fantasizing about living in a warmer climate were not, in reality, fulfilling. You can take the woman out of Minnesota, but it’s far more difficult to take Minnesota out of the woman. Southern Florida and northern California springs were far too subtle for me, one who was used to Minnesota extremes. In Florida, I found myself craving strings of Minnesota cloudy days. Too much sunshine was unsettling. I found myself remarking to my husband, “Don’t they ever have clouds?”. I thought he’d be appalled, but instead he, another Minnesota-native replied, “I’ve been thinking the same thing!” Florida Spring simply shifted to more heat, more humidity, lacking small miracles of newly sprouted grass, never a reprieve from the droning of neighbor’s law mowers.

Northern California’s winter of rain and cold simply continued on into a less-cold, just-as-rainy Spring. Granted, windows were opened a few inches, if bathed in direct sunlight, at least two months earlier than Minnesota, but still, the learned tension couldn’t be released by any particular “Ahhhh!” moment.

We began to miss seasons. Real seasons. As much fun as it was to sit on the Northern California beach on New Years’ Day, celebrating with a picnic and building sand castles, wearing only a light-weight jacket to break the sting of ocean breezes, we decided to move to New England. After 10 fairly season-less years, the change from lush green to crisply cold fall, with its amazing leaf color, was a bit of a shock. More so was the first snow. It’s now 5 years later, and I can safely say I’m comfortably back into my Minnesota-mentality, not putting much faith in the Spring Equinox, but instead, listening, watching, and waiting for the real Spring.

March 20th came and went, and like all those springs in Minnesota, there was no definitive “Ah-hah!” moment in which I felt reason to celebrate Spring’s arrival in northern New England. Last weekend, during a family day out, my brain automatically sprang into Spring Checklist mode. By day’s end, I announced, albeit cautiously to the family, “I think we can safely say Spring has arrived”. You’d think my daughter had been raised in Minnesota. “What makes you so sure”, she asked suspiciously. I recited items from My List, counting them off on my fingers:

“One – We spotted our first motorcycle today. Motorcycle enthusiasts are known for having a keen sense of when to take the bike out of storage.”

“Two – We saw, unfortunately, our first pair of white pants which were worn, as is always the case, by someone who should never wear white pants and needed better fitting underwear.”

“Three – You screamed in surprise at a bug hitting and splattering across the windshield. That’s a definite sign of spring.”

“Four – We saw, and quickly looked away, from the bikini-topped jean-bottomed girl who was jumping ahead of the season. Other than our family, it’s been months since we’ve seen as much flesh as we did today.”

“Five – We had the windows of our car rolled down today, and the heat only had to be set to level 2, not 10.”

“Six – Our neighbors took down their snowplow driveway stakes today. They’re natives. Natives always have a keen sense of these things.”

“Seven – We saw two butterflies today, one bumblebee, and one housefly, and in each case we wanted to greet them with a ‘Welcome! Glad to see you made it’” type of greeting. That’s definitely a sign of spring when everything looks brand new to our eyes and senses”.

“Eight – We smelled our first skunk. That’s always a sign of Spring, although next to the exposed flesh, it’s my least favorite sign of Spring”.

“So”, I concluded, “it’s almost safe to say it’s Spring”.

Thoughtfully, she considered the evidence. “I know what’s missing”, she announced. “Frogs. It’s not Spring until we’ve heard the frogs!”

She was absolutely right. That is The Event which always precedes my mother’s tulip Spring. Nothing else compares with the joy, in any other season, to the event of hearing the first frog – not the first summer’s thunderstorm, fall’s first blush of color, or winter’s first snow. It’s the sound of new life.

Beginning mid-March, in an attempt to move myself more into an optimist mindset, I’ve stuck my head outside several times a day intently listening for the first croak. We’ve stood at the edge of the woods, monitoring the ice melt progress on our vernal pond, experiencing an occasional pessimistic worry that perhaps, this was the year of no frogs. Ye of little faith.

I’m joyous to announce, that on Thursday, March 30th, 2006, we heard one Wood Frog call. Just one. But it was enough. I felt my heart leap with hope.

The next morning, I rose early, several hours before anyone else, taking my hot cup of coffee down to the pond. It seemed incredible, with the amount of remaining ice, that I could have heard a single frog the previous day. I returned to the house, leaving the dead silence of the pond behind, remembeirng they’d need a good full morning of bright sunshine. And so it was, at 11 a.m., hours after my first visit, I returned with my children to the pond, greeted by not one, but a good one-hundred Wood Frog calls. “It’s Spring, isn’t it Mommy”, my darling Sarah asked.

We would like to conclusively announce, beyond a shadow of a doubt, Spring arrived in New Hampshire on March 29th, 2006.

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