The Last Day of Winter
A CCORDING to the almanac March 21st is the last day of winter. The almanac is not always to be trusted—not for hay weather, or picnic weather, or sailing weather; but you can always trust it for March 21st weather. Whatever the weather man at Washington predicts about it, whatever comes,—snow, sleet, slush, rain, wind, or frogs and sunshine,—March 21st is the last day of winter.
The sun "crosses the line" that day; spring crosses with him; and I cross over with the spring.
Let it snow! I have had winter enough. Let the wind rage! It cannot turn back the sun; it cannot blow away the "equinoctial line"; it cannot snow under my determination to have done, here and now, with winter!
The sun crosses to my side of the Equator on the 21st
of March; there is nothing in the universe that can
stop him. I cross over the line with him; and there is
nothing under the sun that can stop me. When you want
it to be spring, if you have the sun on your side of
the line you can have spring. Hitching
your wagon to a star is a very great help in getting
along; but having the big sun behind
is a tremendous help in ridding you of a slow and, by this time, wearisome winter, storm-wind and all.
Almanacs are not much to trust in; but if ever you prize one, it is on the 21st of March,—that is, if you chance to live in New England. Yet you can get along without the almanac—even in New England. Hang it up under the corner of the kitchen mantelpiece and come out with me into the March mud. We are going to find the signs of spring, the proofs that this is the last day of winter, that the sun is somewhere in the heavens and on this side of the equatorial line.
Almanac or no, and with all other signs snowed under, there are still our bones! Spring is in our bones. I cannot tell you how it gets into them, nor describe precisely how it feels. But, then, I do not need to. For you feel it in your bones too—a light, hollow feeling, as if your bones were birds' bones, and as if you could flap your arms and fly!
Only that you feel it more in your feet; and you will start and run, like the Jungle-folk, like Mowgli—run, run, run! Oh, it is good to have bones in your body, young bones with the "spring-running," in their joints, instead of the grit of rheumatism to stiffen and cripple you!
The roads are barely thawed. The raw wind is penetrating, and we need our greatcoats to keep out the cold. But look! A flock of robins—twenty of them, dashing into the cedars, their brown breasts glowing warm and red against the dull sky and the dark green of the trees! And wait—before we go down the hill—here behind the barn—no, there he dives from the telephone wire—Phœbe! He has just gotten back, and is simply killing time now (and insects too), waiting for Mrs. Phœbe to arrive, and housekeeping to begin.
Don't move! There in the gray clouds—two soaring, circling hen-hawks! Kee-ee-you! Kee-ee-you! Round and round they go, their shrill, wild whistle piercing the four quarters of the sky and tingling down the cold spine of every forest tree and sapling, stirring their life blood until it seems to run red into their tops.
For see the maple swamp off yonder—the ashy gray of the boles, a cold steel-color two thirds of the way toward the top, but there changing into a faint garnet, a flush of warmth and life that seems almost to have come since morning!
Let us go on now, for I want to get some watercress from the brook—the first green growing thing for the table thus far!—and some pussy-willows for the same table, only not to eat. (There are many good things in this world that are not good to eat.)
If the sun were shining I should take you by way of the beehives to show you, dropping down before their open doors, a few eager bees bringing home baskets of pollen from the catkins of the hazelnut bushes.
The hazelnut bushes are in bloom! Yes, in bloom! No, the skunk-cabbages are not out yet, nor the hepaticas, nor the arbutus; but the hazelnut bushes are in bloom, and—see here, under the rye straw that covers the strawberry-bed—a small spreading weed, green, and cheerily starred with tiny white flowers!
It is the 21st of March; the sun has crossed the line; the phœbes have returned; and here under the straw in the garden the chickweed,—starwort, —first of the flowers, is in blossom!
But come on; I am not going back yet. This is the last day of winter. Cold? Yes, it is cold, raw, wretched, gloomy, with snow still in the woods, with frost still in the ground, and with not a frog or hyla anywhere to be heard. But come along. This is the last day of winter—of winter? No, no, it is the first day of spring. Robins back, phœbes back, watercress for the table, chickweed in blossom, and a bird's nest with eggs in it! Winter? Spring? Birds' eggs, did I say?
The almanac is mixed again. It always is. Who's Who in the Seasons when all of this is happening on the 21st of March? For here is the bird's nest with eggs in it, just as I said.
Watch the hole up under that stub of a limb while I tap
on the trunk. How sound asleep! But I will wake them.
Climb up and take a peek at the eggs, but don't you dare to touch them! Of course you will not. I need not have been so quick and severe in my command; for, if we of this generation do not know as much about some things as our fathers knew, we do at least know better than they that the owls are among our best friends and are to be most jealously protected.
Climb up, I say, and take a peek at those round white eggs, and tell me, Is it spring or winter? Is it the last day, or the first day, or the first and last in one? What a high mix-up is the weather—especially this New England sort!
But look at that! A snowflake! Yes, it is beginning to snow—with the sun crossing the line! It is beginning to snow, and down with the first flakes, like a bit of summer sky drops a bluebird, calling softly, sweetly, with notes that melt warm as sunshine into our hearts.
"For, lo, the winter is past,
the rain is over and
gone." But see how it snows! Yes, but