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W. S. Furneaux

The Awakening of Nature

dropcap image PRING is the season of the general awakening of Nature. During the cold months of late autumn and winter many of Nature's creatures have been in repose; but now, called forth by the gradually increasing power of the sun's rays, they resume their life of activity. Thus spring, with all its promises of renewed life and vigour, following a comparatively dull season of chilly sleep, is welcomed by all, but especially by the lover of Nature, who delights to watch the ever-increasing response to the call of the ascending sun.

The first signs of returning life are visible long before the winter is really over; for although the night frosts are still keen, and the atmosphere by day often very cold, yet the occasional intervals of bright sunshine arouse many slumberers from their necessary rest. So we find the hazel in full bloom, and often the yew, elm, alder, and other trees; while many of our favourite spring flowers lift their blossoms before the snows have ceased to fall. Many hibernating creatures, too, leave their winter homes under the influence of a genial sun, perhaps only to return on the approach of another spell of wintry weather.

But with the real advent of spring new changes are to be witnessed every day. New vegetable growth appears in great abundance. The ground herbage shoots upward with astonishing rapidity, soon overtopping the dead stalks and leaves of the previous year. The trees and shrubs, one after another, are tipped with green as their bud-scales expand and reveal the tender leaves they enclosed; and new flowers are constantly appearing everywhere.

Some plants died to the roots before the winter set in, but not until they had scattered seeds for the perpetuation of their species; and now we see hundreds and thousands of their offspring thrusting their tiny leaves above the soil. Even the seeds of these plants must necessarily take their period of rest; and as some require a longer sleep than others, we find some of the seedlings appearing long after others have made a sturdy growth.

Many plants died down to the ground while the portions beneath the surface continued to live. Most of these laid up a store of food material in their stocks, tubers, bulbs, or creeping underground stems; and thus they are able to produce strong growths with great rapidity as soon as the temperature becomes favourable.

In woodlands it is interesting to watch the growth of seedling forest trees. Here we see hundreds, even thousands, of little beech trees, oaks, birches, ash, etc., just peeping above the soil; often so thickly placed that they could not possibly attain any great size; but they are exposed to so many dangers that, regardless of position, only a very small proportion are able to survive. In many cases these seedlings are far from their parent trees, but this is due to the fact that the seeds (or fruits) were so constructed that they were easily carried by the breeze, or that they were scattered by the agency of wild birds or quadrupeds.

As regards animal life, there are many creatures that do not spend the winter in repose, for they are able to obtain their natural food throughout the cold season. Thus the herbivorous rabbit can always find a meal of green food except when the ground is covered with snow, and then it will attack the bark of young trees; birds can nearly always obtain the seeds, berries, grubs, etc., which form their winter diet; and the carnivorous fox, stoat, and weasel seldom search in vain for their prey; but most of our other wild creatures are compelled to sleep through the cold season, either because their natural food is not to be found, or because they are unable to withstand the severe winter weather.

And now, in early spring, these creatures are aroused by the warm rays that have penetrated to their hiding-places, and one by one they reveal themselves to us as we take our rambles.

Frogs and toads return to their ponds while yet they may be imprisoned by a barrier of thick ice, and even on a frosty night their croakings fill the air. A bit later in the season the little hibernating and winter-hiding quadrupeds resume their active life. Soon we hear the familiar rustle of the little lizards as they rapidly dart away amongst the herbage of a sunny bank, and again observe the gliding movement of the snake as it rapidly seeks cover when we intrude in its haunts.

Then the air becomes more and more thickly peopled with insect life day by day. The very first warm and bright spell of sunshine entices the hibernating butterflies and other insects from their winter retreats, among them the queen wasps and wild bees which are, in most cases, the sole survivors of the large families of the previous summer. And as soon as the warmth of the sun has penetrated an inch or so into the soil, the numerous pupæ, which have escaped the ravages of insectivorous creatures, burst open their brittle cases and emerge with new-formed wings, soon filling the air with myriads of flies, butterflies, moths, and other denizens of the air.

These early insects soon find their mates, and it is not long before millions of tiny eggs give rise to as many little grubs which immediately commence their ravages on the new tender leaves and flowers of herbs and trees.

So, as the spring advances, fields, hedgerows, woodlands, and wild wastes teem with increasing animal and vegetable life, newly aroused from its winter sleep by the genial sun; and the air is filled with the soft hum of insect life, the twitterings and joy-peals of birds, and the sweet odours of opening flowers.

We ourselves are influenced by the warmth and brightness of this enchanting season, and we long to ramble over the countryside where freshness breathes and all sleeping things are brought to active life again.