Friday, February 21, 2014

Spring - afoot and fancy free

There are some who want springtime to break out early and there are others who live where it actually does. 

Southern Living editor Lindsay Bierman calls attention in the February 2014 issue that the cover conveys spring for a very good reason. 

He says February heralds the return to warmer weather. The choice of herald in his explanation is brilliant. It sold me right there. 

A herald announces good news. In February in the South that news is the arrival back of spring.

This year's February cover was turned into a celebration of spring, Bierman said, following staff discussions (which must have come up annually in the past). 

The staff debated whether the February cover should reflect winter, as the calendar places the month, or if the magazine better serves its readership by casting February in the light of spring.

Bierman figures (with apparent consensus from his team) that spring in the South deserves declaration by February. He advocates for the February cover to serve as a spring issue from here on in.

There's no question that the South has a head start on spring over the rest of us. It does seem smart for the magazine to capitalize on this.

Elsewhere, where this winter has dragged on, the hope that February would be a reprieve from the cold, ice, snow and wind hasn't come to pass.

Those weary of winter regard spring as a beautiful word. As this protracted season drags on, however, spring has a nearly unobtainable reality to it. 

Those stuck in the trenches of winter begin to dream of places where spring is established, where spring has come and been and flowered and rushed on.

It makes me think of the patterns by which spring arrives. Spring comes creeping, it comes in waves, it recedes and flashes forth. Spring in each region has an aspect found nowhere else.

In the north our experience of spring is a slow advance of the season. Its presence for quite awhile is noted by the longer daylight and not a whole lot else.

When it decides to arrive the timing can be so swift it can catch us off guard. By somersaults (mostly mental in nature) and automatic grins we welcome it. 

Until this occurs we must wait while spring unfolds in the warmest regions of our country and works its way to us.

By late January there are clues that the United States is tilting at a more direct angle toward the sun.

Longer daylight is observable. The blooming season becomes more pronounced in the warm climates, and birds there twitter increasingly. Their songs each day are more clearly heard.

Spring begins in Florida for sure, in California and the tip of Texas. The various places spring has first onset are familiar because we hear about them from many sources.

Sometimes these spring oases are known to us through weather news. Often it's via glowing tans as family members and colleagues return from winter vacations or they share on social media their renewal time in the sun.

From its southernmost outposts the wash of spring continues farther afoot and fancy free. It eddies and swirls northerly. It steals along with the lengthening rays. It spreads. It gains a dominant hand over the land.

February in the South, as Bierman suggests on his editorial page, is spring with no doubt to it. 

Not every southern February shows the season's full countenance. But count on spring being there in sufficient form by now, or so close it's splitting hairs to say it isn't.

Sometimes you have to look harder for it. Spring can be elusive in the South (and nonexistent in other places) in colder years. 

Some years spring in the South lies very near the surface even through the quiet winter period. 

A Georgia friend reported snowdrops blooming in the yard in late December this year. At Christmastime, she said - both a discovery and a  delight.

The southern countryside stretches and awakens under blue cloudless February skies.

The bright red blur of cardinals, cheerful robins on green grass, bluebirds quick of motion, cedar waxwings and other feathered species of joyous birdsong gladden this month's mild days.

Frogs are in chorus from nearby creeks. Daffodils are southern sunshine where their yellow flowers catch the eye.

Squirrels race and scold, accelerating the sense that spring is breaking all around. 

Many southern gardeners use February to plant cool weather crops like carrots or radishes. The seeds, set carefully in their rows, hasten through frost-free nights for readiness of picking. 

The new plantings add to crops like spinach, which are already growing, and which make tasty February meals of homegrown greens.

Potatoes also are planted in these early gardens. In some areas of the South potatoes planted soon will be harvested in May. New potatoes on the dinner table by Mother's Day sounds pretty wonderful to many of us.

February in my area will never be misconstrued as spring. February covers of our regional lifestyle magazines have little recourse other than to stick with a winter theme. 

(Unless the editors fool us with a February picnic cover photographed on a rolling green lawn, leading us to believe a copy of Southern Living was sent by mistake.)

As we turn the pages of the February issue of Midwest Living many of us dream forward.

We wonder where the celebration of winter - excellently highlighted through photos, travel features, stories, tips and recipes - will take us. 

It'll take us (we know it well before the last page) to our own awaited season of spring.

The magazine recognizes that the February issue is our bridge, our long span. It deposits us, in the end, on the distant and lovely shore we take for spring in our parts.

At this stage it's still a far shore barely perceptible on the horizon. 

Others have had a foothold on it (it seems to us) since time began. But we'll get there. One foot (of snow) at a time.

Ro Giencke - February 21, 2014

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