As lingering autumn wildflowers succumb to January frost; as grasses shrivel and shred; as trees offer up their branches to importunate winds from the north and are rendered bare, a certain impatience begins to stir.
Winter is winter, after all, and bland, monochromatic landscapes can oppress the spirit as surely as long months of ice and snow. When fog insists on shrouding those same landscapes and gray, glowering skies refuse to lighten, questions inevitably arise: how long will it be until we see the change we long for? How long must we wait until this gray, dismal time gives way to spring?
Certainly, by mid-February in coastal Texas there are signs. Mallards chase one another on the ponds, with mating on their minds. Coots begin flocking up, setting aside their aggressive quarreling in preparation for migration. Their leave-taking occurs as silently and secretively as their arrival; by the time their absence is noted, they will be well away.
Even as the coots depart, northern-bound ospreys cease calling to one another above the lake, and the kingfisher’s rattle already has flown. Bereft of sound as well as of color, the world waits for what will come.
What comes, of course, is the greening of spring: a process of flowering and renewal as silent and secretive in its arrival as the departure of coots. Despite years in Texas, I’ve often missed those first arrivals, since my Inner Midwesterner seems determined to believe that spring arrives here on a midwestern schedule, in mid-to-late March, or even April.
My inability to adapt to seasons I’ve experienced for over a quarter century suggests that we may be imprinted as firmly by place as by face, with our understanding of seasons rooted in our first, formative years. True or not, what can’t be denied is that, year after year, each time I bestirred myself to go out to meet the spring, early wildflowers already were fading beneath a rising summer heat.
Determined to break an old pattern, I resolved last week to visit my favorite vacant lots, abandoned industrial sites, ditches, and nearby nature centers just to see what was happening. What I found astonished me. Had I dallied, I would have missed much of spring’s first flowering.
It isn’t that the flowers are particularly early. Some typically bloom in February, and many more appear in March. The flowers, it seems, are on schedule. But for once I was on their schedule, too, and I’m happy to share some of what I discovered in the past week.
If you’re still buried in snow, take heart; spring is coming your way. And if the sun is shining and the temperatures are warming, look around. There might be a party going on.