Thirty-eight degrees and sunny.
Groundhogs and Pollsters
February started with predictions for spring. Most groundhogs predicted spring is just a whisker away. A few groundhogs predicted a longer winter. Iowans confounded predictions of winners in their caucuses, predicting a long spring primary season.
Groundhogs are back snoozing in their burrows. Unchastened pollsters herded themselves to New Hampshire, on the heels of unchastened politicians.
Predicting spring at the urban nature preserve is straightforward, though. Rodents and pollsters aren’t needed. Just sunlight.
We all have a definition of spring when we’re slogging through yet more snow: Spring means it isn’t winter anymore. Most people, even fanatical skiers, are ready for an end to gray skies and gray slush.
Seasons have three definitions, two official, one my own:
- Astronomical, the traditional definition.
- Meteorological, based on weather patterns.
- Lyrical, my definition based on how the special charms of each season captivate us.
Spring begins March 19 this year at 10:31 p.m. (MDT). The spring equinox happens when the sun crosses the celestial equator on its path north along Earth’s ecliptic.
The celestial equator is, “The projection of the Earth’s equator onto the sky”, according to scienceworld.wolfram.com.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) defines the ecliptic:
The ecliptic plane is…the imaginary plane containing the Earth’s orbit around the sun.
(This website has a second-by-second countdown to astronomical spring for the truly impatient.)
Meteorologists chart spring earlier, on March first. Scientists who study weather are most interested in weather patterns, not Earth’s position in the solar system. So according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac:
Weather scientists divide the year into quarters…to make it easier to compare seasonal and monthly statistics from one year to the next. The meteorological seasons are based on annual temperature cycles rather than on the position of Earth in relation to the Sun…
Lyrical spring begins at the first hint of the season, the earliest sign that whispers, “Spring is coming.” Perhaps the first snowdrops or tiny, green crocus shoots. Lyrical spring encompasses all the wonder of the season the word spring brings to mind.
A change in light is the earliest glimmer of lyrical spring at my house. East-facing windows capture morning sunlight, spreading it through the house in a special way, at a different angle.
It happens only a few weeks each year. February and again in August. By March the sun is too far north. And in September, too far south to fill those windows with light quite the same way.
This week sunlight spilled into alcoves and corners that live in shadow most
of the year. Light sparked rainbows in an heirloom crystal bowl, cascaded down the stairs, was soaked up by snoozing dogs. Lyrical spring is here and not a moment too soon.
Sunlight predicts that meteorological and astronomical spring aren’t far behind, no groundhogs required. Or pollsters. Maybe we should wake up those critters and let them predict elections instead.
(A note about the artwork: The first post drawings were created digitally using apps by Autodesk; SketchBook Pro and Pixlr. The art for today’s post used a more complex process of photomontage, combined with “real” collage using Thai and Japanese papers. It was composed in layers on my scanner and the layers were further refined with Sketchbook Pro.)