Spring daffodils push up through the dirt in late March in the Shenandoah Valley


Welcome to regular guest blogger and Connection Messenger, Esther Miller. Esther has such a gift for taking us right along with her as she observes and appreciates the natural world around her. In spite of the recent snow and continued cold weather, Spring was official on March 20.


Spring defies definition

I started this by going to Google to get a definition of spring. Isn’t that what we do to get everybody on the same page? But spring doesn’t fit on a page. One look at Wikipedia’s entry on Spring Season will show you that spring is all over the calendar and there are numerous definitions. So maybe spring is mostly subjective.

Spring in Texas

My own first inkling of spring came early. We lived in Dallas, and most children in our working class neighborhood went barefoot as soon as possible. Shoes were for school and church. Spring was when it was finally warm enough to shed those shoes. But warm enough for me and warm enough for my mom were two different things. Mom had lived most of her life in Iowa, and there was no way in her mind that April first would ever be warm enough to go barefoot!

Spring in Iowa

My next clear memory of spring was in Iowa when I was old enough to be a school crossing guard. I’d bundle up after lunch and help all the little kids cross the street closest to the school. Spring was when I could finally put on that white school crossing guard belt with the strap across my chest without having to tug and struggle to make it fit over my winter coat.

Spring in southern California

Then we moved to southern California. Spring in college was the first night it was warm enough to have the dorm windows open—maybe mid-February—and the room was filled with the intense fragrance of orange blossoms from the grove across the street. Orange blossoms always brought on a serious bout of spring fever.

Eventually I was a homemaker and gardener and began to study the wildflowers of the Pacific Coast. My field guide from the 80s is filled with entries of what flowers I found blooming where and the dates I found them. Depending on elevation and latitude, the same flower might bloom a couple of months earlier in one place than another.

Somewhere in my gardening reading, I discovered the concept of phenology, the study of natural events that occur at the same time. From earliest times, it was important to know how plants and animals were related so that food could be found in each season of the year. The natives taught our early settlers in North America to plant corn when oak leaves were the size of a squirrel’s ear, knowing that oaks leafed out late and the soil would then be warm enough for corn.

Spring in Virginia

Spring seems to be most important in temperate climates, when even the red oaks have finally lost all their leaves and the gray skies have been scratched by bare branches too long. After we moved to Virginia, I thought crocuses were the first signs of spring, but I found a couple of others. If there was plenty of snow, or late winter rains, our spring would start flowing again, and soon its water would be filled with long strands of algae. The water flowing from the earth was much warmer than the surface soil, and the algae would show the first signs of green. Following the line of trees from the spring towards the river, I’d come to the patch of Virginia bluebells that grew larger each year. I dared not get too close for fear of stepping on the buds before I saw them, but if I stared long enough at all the dead leaves, I’d see the fat purple tips of the bluebells sticking their heads up, checking on the weather.

Back in California

But I’ve left the bluebells and the spring behind. Today, in early March, I spent a couple of hours with my head in a flowering plum tree cleaning out years of neglect and poor pruning. Spring is my sad season here in California, the end of the rainy season. The emerald hills will soon turn golden, then brown by summer. If the autumn rains are late, the brown will fade to a lifeless gray. Then one day, in October if we’re lucky, or November if we’re not, the rains will return and that will be our spring.

The season of renewal

For all of you who are aching for the early signs of spring where you live, may you find them soon and rejoice in the season of renewal.

What do you call spring?

What tells you spring has arrived?

Please let us know in the comments below, and be sure to include what part of the world you live in.


Esther Miller

Esther Miller

Esther Miller is a friend, fellow writer and amateur radio operator (KK6AD). Born and raised in the Midwest, Esther lived in California for over 30 years before moving to the Shenandoah Valley over 10 years ago. She’s currently back in California living nearer her children and grandchildren.

Esther has been a Virginia Master Gardener for many years. She has traveled all over the United States and brings a wealth of experience to her writing. She invites you to follow her through her blog “At Home…On the Road.” Besides gardening, Esther is interested in genealogy. She has two children and three grandchildren.

Photo credit: Spring daffodils, taken by Elizabeth H. Cottrell
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