Funny how it only takes a few warm days to contract a bad case of longing-for-spring fever.
We’re ready, we’re eager, we want it now. But spring is fickle, you may recall, arriving when it’s good and ready. Yet even now there are clear signs and portents — if you know where to look for them.
Look along the distant tree line, and you’ll see a nimbus, an aureole of color. It’s just the faintest tint at first, a ruddy halo of swelling buds that soon will display the many shades of tiny new leaves.
The wands of weeping willow are going golden, kissed by the Midas touch of the warming sun. Even the ailanthus, that gawky tree with undivided branches as knobby as arthritic fingers, has tips that are turning ruddy, a sure sign that sap is rising.
Stand under a maple and look up. See the buds, silhouetted against the sky like pearls on a string? There’s real evidence there in the thickening shadows of budding tree limbs.
Look at the cat briar, tangled in the roadside trees, and you’ll see its stems are turning green. The brambles like wild raspberry are warming to a mellow maroon, the fire of growth ignited. The bittersweet, another scrambler, will shortly shed its last, shriveled berries for crinkled new-green leaves.
Visit a fresh water wetland, tramp the boggy ground near lakes and streams, and chances are you’ll come upon the strange, mottled brown flower of the skunk cabbage. Within a hooded sheath, the flowers stud a round golf ball structure, making the skunk cabbage perhaps the most alien-looking native in the woodlands.
Check out an apple orchard, if you have one in the neighborhood. The apple trees already are pruned, the trimmings lying in long, low rows. The branches left on the tree are slowly turning rosy pink, preparing to flower in a champagne froth of blossom.
Look for spring in the heart of the boxwood, where small, acid-green flowers are releasing their odd, astringent scent. Look at the forsythia, which within weeks — as few as two — will reward our winter weary spirits with blossoms of pure sunshine.
Spring is out there on the lawn, where the sod should be losing its dormant brown and taking on a greener hue. Unless you are a lucky one, I’ll bet the pesky onion grass is already waving its lanky, thread-like leaves at you from that self-same lawn.
Visit that spot, if you know one, where snowdrops grow thick on the ground. I’ve already been to mine, a bit of private woods that borders the parking lot of a local realty. These early spring bulbs tend to quickly fade away, which is why I don’t grow them myself. But they are already in bloom, for a week or more now, bearing witness to the end of winter.
Look for spring in the local garden centers, where new stock is arriving daily. Look on the shelves of your supermarket’s floral section, where you’ll see pots of daffodils and tulips, as well as the standard cut flowers offered through the winter.
As you wander your own yard, reacquainting yourself with the contours of a winter-wasted land, keep your eyes on the ground.
Everywhere you took care to plant them, spring bulbs are bravely pushing their little “noses” above the soil’s surface.
Every day, I visit the grassy fronds of crocus, the first shoots of bulbous iris, the soldier-straight daffodil shoots and the ruddy new leaves of tulips, all pledging their lives to the notion that spring is at hand.
In the garden, under the dead, brown leaves, perennials are pushing up new growth. Beneath a haystack of crumpled foliage, the lady’s mantle and the hardy geraniums are among the first to show some green. The wild daylilies and German irises are already a mass of two-inch shoots, and deep at the base of the sedums, new, succulent life is bubbling from the earth.
Keep an ear to the sky, and you may hear the spurl and crick of red-winged blackbirds newly arrived from points south, a better harbinger of spring than even the robin. Crack a window as you cruise past streams and ditches in an evening, keeping a sharp ear out for the teeming chorus of spring peepers. Notice the hum of the odd honeybee, making reconnaissance flights in search of spring nectar.
Keep looking, keep listening, and one day very soon, you will have your own convincing evidence that the new season is irrevocably on the way. One day very soon, you will see and hear and feel the green and beating heart of spring.