Spring has sprung. See. Smell. Listen. Appreciate.

Published 5:45 pm Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Spring has always been a welcome time of year to me, partially because I’ve always hated cold weather; but more than that, I just love seeing nature explode with new life each year. And the more springs I see, the more I covet them.

Surry and Isle of Wight are beautiful counties, and never more so than when nature unfolds its spring magic.

I particularly enjoy watching our salt marshes come to life. One day, they’re brown, with the broken and rotting detritus of last year’s foliage, and the next they have come alive with fresh, green shoots of grass that will soon be waist high. Within a very few weeks, they are lush green once again.

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Trees are also amazing. One day, they are bare-branched, or at least appear so from a distance. Up close, though, you can see life pulsing in new stems, causing buds to swell.

And they will not be held back. We have a red oak in the yard that clings tenaciously to last year’s leaves. Neither rain, snow nor wind will dislodge them. But when the new leaves are ready to bud, they simply push the old away and the oak tree blossoms.

Overnight, trees are green again. But it’s not the dark, mature green of summer. The greens of spring, for all-too-brief a period, are delicate pastels that speak of newness and freshness. They are iridescent in sunlight, almost transparent in their delicacy. They will later mature, and there is scientific reason for this deepening of color. It has to do with the development of chlorophyll. But don’t worry about the science. Just sit back and enjoy the magnificence of it all.

It’s not only the flora that heralds spring, of course. Animals of all kinds respond to this time of new life. Just step in the backyard and listen to the mockingbirds. Their songs in spring seem to be more exuberant. The late Elsey Harris used to talk to the mockingbirds that nested in his yard and, yes, they would respond.

Even the buzz of carpenter bees is a familiar and pleasant sound of the season, even though I know they will drill unwelcome holes in the porch,

We have been fortunate to see, in our lifetime, the return of ospreys and eagles, which all but disappeared during the days of DDT use in the mid-20th century. Someone said just last week that he took a boat trip down the Pagan River and every buoy was topped by an osprey nest.

The James River, particularly the stretch west of Jamestown, is a favored East Coast habitat of the bald eagle, and numerous breeds of hawks can be seen throughout our area. A hawk hunting for prey is an amazing thing to watch.

I think our rural ancestors may have had a deeper appreciation for the change in seasons in many respects than do we. They were certainly more sensitive to it. Living in houses that were drafty in winter and hot in summer, nature was up close and personal.

And those who farmed had a thorough understanding of nature’s workings. They raised livestock and crops in far less than ideal conditions, and while their farming practices were more destructive, for lack of knowledge and resources, than modern agricultural practices, they were far less destructive than our paved-over version of society.

My father made sure I had at least a passing appreciation for nature when I was small. He knew every inch of our farm, including precisely where jacks-in-the-pulpit grew in our woods, and took me there to see them. He recognized them as one of nature’s most showy but delicate creations and wanted to be sure I appreciated them as well. I do.

His love of spring included a personal ritual. He would cut branches of the first dogwood blossoms he found on the farm each spring and bring them to the house where my mother would place them in a brown crock that sat in the hall. That simple gesture heralded a new growing season.

In a visit to my homeplace recently, I was delighted to see that the old crock still resides in the hall, a reminder of springs on the farm long ago.


John Edwards is publisher emeritus of The Smithfield Times. His email address is j.branchedwards@gmail.com.