I just spent two months in the United States and got to see spring in three different places. Really, I got to see three different springs.
My first spring was in San Francisco, which was unaccountably hot. The last time I was in San Francisco, in the July of their summer, I needed my winter coat. This February I needed t-shirts, which I hadn’t packed. It was hot. Not just mildly warm, but as if I’d arrived in the middle of summer, except it wasn’t. There were leaves on the trees, magnolias in full bloom, shedding those deep-red-purple centred white petals onto the street. I felt completely disoriented, particularly as I’d come from my own Blue Mountains where – in summer – I’d been needing to wear several jumpers.
In my part of the world the green returns somewhere between the standard Pagan festivals of the spring equinox and Beltain. It’s something I quietly celebrate, because the return of colour to the world, and the return of leaves is something I find uplifting. It’s not an event, and it’s impossible to ascribe a reliable date to it. The greening happens in response to light, temperature, and the mysterious whims of plants.
Underwood tends to leaf first – I’m seeing elder and hawthorn leaves. Weeping willows are in leaf, osier willows still have bare branches. Chestnut is underway, ash isn’t particularly. Each tree comes into leaf in its own time. Other plants all have their own unique relationship with the seasons – early spring flowers are going over, a new set of plants are flourishing, the woodlands are green with the leaves of garlic and bluebells, while the fields and hills brighten with new grass.
When I first started on my pagan journey I was presented with the Wheel of the Year and it seemed most pagans worked with it. I spent ages trying to remember the dates and learn the names and correspondences, even to this day I have to stop and think about it when trying to recall what is what!
I also started dressing my altar for each sabbat and looking up all the correct colours, herbs and associations to know what to put on it.But I have to admit I started to lapse and I realised that I wasn’t connecting with the celebrations and what I was doing was just a mechanical action because I thought I had to.
The spring equinox this year falls on the 20th of March. This is a time of youthful exuberance in nature, when all of the green world seems to be springing back into life. March wind and rain may still keep many of us indoors on some days, but if we venture out into the wild we will be surprised by what we encounter. Blossom will be erupted from every tree and hedgerow, and the forest floor begins to be carpeted with primroses and anemones, celandine and of course daffodils, which spring up everywhere along verges and gardens as well as the wild with equal ease and sunny glory.
Mad march hares can be seen sprinting across the brown fields, and boxing off unwanted lovers as the mating season gets underway in earnest. One of my favourite places to see the hares is at Uffington White Horse in Oxfordshire, though they can be found all over the UK. Sighting the hares is a regular part of my spring pilgrimage to this exposed but beautiful ancient site.
In Pagan traditions, we tend to associate the winter with letting go of the old, and the spring with the coming of the new – it’s a tree based way of viewing things. Leaves fall off in the autumn, so we let go. New buds emerge in the spring, sap rises, catkins flower – we can make new plans.
However, there’s a longstanding tradition of spring cleaning, and it’s not just humans who do it. The return of the light shows up grime and cobwebs accumulated over the winter. With spring, it may at last be warm enough to open windows and air rooms. Other mammals will be clearing out the winter bedding to make fresh nests for new litters of young as well. New nests are built and old ones carefully refurbished.