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The Turning of the Year

In cold grey Michigan’s early February it was definitely winter, but my British nature sites were all tweeting away about snowdrops and crocuses and busy little robins. In England, after all, it is the time of year when all that is expected.

The old Celtic seasons included four cross-quarter holidays besides the solstices; the one that begins on February 1 and lasts until May Eve is called Imbolc, and that’s when spring  was welcomed in:

“Let there be welcome to the Spring of the Year/In cold and darkness you are traveling/In warmth and brightness you will arrive.”

The warm waters of Gulf Stream bring the first signs of spring to England in early February

and stimulate wildlife to prepare for breeding. This ptarmigan, which turned up on my Twitter feed just this week, has already changed from winter to spring plumage:

Since I am sufficiently pagan to celebrate the cross-quarters, I always look about me on the first of February. Invariably, that day or the next, a male cardinal perches himself on a high branch and begins to declare his territory, while others meet his challenge from neighboring yards. It could snow like mad, but those red birds always chime in right at  Imbolc. A week or so later mourning doves tune up to provide a background rhythm of coo-coo-roo-coos, indicating that they too feel something stirring beneath the frozen sod.

When I go out every night to watch Orion rise in the western sky, I can feel something move in the earth, as if some great stiff shoulder were shrugging down under my feet.

Then, in the later weeks of February, my own snowdrops come into bloom.

But this year something weird and discomfiting happened: in mid-February the temperature rose into the 50s and 60s and stayed that way for days at a time. Glad as I was to shrug off my coat, scarf, and mittens and go for a walk in the woods, I couldn’t help but worry about what we human beings have done to our beloved planet, threatening the birds and the blossoms of all our springs to come.