Another snowy day here. The clouds began moving in around noon yesterday and by late afternoon the storm arrived, first as rain on a south wind and then as dark descended and the temperature fell the rain turned to wet snow and the wet snow around midnight lashed at the bedroom window in the form of ice pellets. By what should have been dawn this morning we were held in a small world bounded by millions of tiny snowflakes, with no familiar edge either beyond our lower field toward the valley before us or beyond the apple trees toward the mountain behind us. The wind now, in the late afternoon has shifted into the north-east and the temperature is dropping. The snow has not let up.
Accepting the Bad with the Good in March
Well, here we are: well-launched in March, the long-wished-for month that consistently follows the shortest and, probably, the least admired month of the year. Much conversation recently circled around wishing for a speedy end to February and the coming of March. And where are we, now that March has finally arrived? Still in February as far as one can tell.
This is the time of year when casual conversations usually begin with a nod toward the sky and words to the effect that “the sun has some warmth in it.” The good old words this year usually have an appendix: “as long as the wind isn’t blowing.”
Mind you, on this small place the other morning the thermometer indicated a temperature that under the circumstances amounted to a heat wave, being a mere minus 19.5 on the Celsius scale. (In the human scale, called Fahrenheit, it was much warmer - a hopeful minus 3.1. Of course, since 32 degrees F. is the freezing point of water, minus 3.1 is still 35.1 degrees below freezing.) What seems to have been forgotten in the rush to shove February out the door - that is, the practically infinite length of March - means that winter still stares us in the face.
I saw a headline on the web a while back. It said, “March is Severe Weather Preparedness Month.” The advice came from somewhere in Illinois but the thought transfers easily to these northern climes.
Last week sometime my wife heard one of the ubiquitous weather forecasters who are such a feature of the daily news saying firmly that the air would not begin to warm up until sometime in the middle of April. I love these little insights from the billion-dollar world of satellites, weather balloons, huge computers and multitudes of trained acolytes to read them.
Years ago we watched a presentation about the accuracy of weather prediction when extended over long periods of time. The show, which, as I recall, came directly from official sources, looked at long-term predictions (three months at a clip) in the past. The conclusion? The accuracy of the predictions, based on all that expertise and equipment was slightly better (or worse - I don’t remember) than flipping a coin.
I’ve also heard it said, about short-term prediction, that if you want to predict the next day say tomorrow’s weather will be the same as today’s. Of course every once in a while (quite frequently in the Maritimes) that doesn’t work either.
March does have one thing going for it - the first day of spring. The vernal equinox has been an important moment for a lot longer than the weather bureau. It has nothing to do with what sort of weather the next day will bring, being written in the stars. The term ‘equinox’ indicates that on that moment the length of the day and of the night are roughly equal everywhere in the world. In the distant past, and, obviously, south of here, that moment would indicate the starting point of the agricultural year. Evidence suggests that our ancestors not only knew about the equinox but as far back as 10,000 years ago they were making wooden - and later, stone - monuments to help them mark that date.
This house has its long axis south-east to north-west, and so in the mornings through the year we can watch the point at which the sun begins to rise beyond the hills across the valley, and at the end of the day its resting point from the kitchen windows. Spring and fall there are several days when the rising sun floods the front rooms with light, and, setting, pours into the kitchen windows. It’s not an abstract idea here, the equinox.
The dawning of the day as the sun rises steadily eastward from its winter solstice is not the only sign which puts us in touch with our ancient ancestors. Although the weather this year has made treks into the out of doors to look at the sky before bedtime unappealing, still the occasional glimpse offers some consolation from the rigor mortis of winter. The great panoply of winter’s stars - bright Orion, arm raised against Taurus the bull bearing down on him, and followed by his dogs, sinks now toward the west, heading toward the southern hemisphere where he can be seen in their winter - now he yields place to Leo, harbinger of spring, who has been climbing up the sky since sometime back in January.
The heavens are not to be contradicted. Spring will come - seedtime and, yes, harvest.
11 March 2014