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Springtime phenology: "...and you'll be here to see it!"

Having lived through a long false spring that began in January 2024, we know now that real, true spring is here. I can say that confidently even as heavy, wet snow covers the farm. How do we know spring? The red-winged blackbirds are back trilling in the wetland. The red elderberries are leafing out. We can smell the soil. Bluebirds and trumpeter swans are looking for nesting sites. The buds on the currants are swelling and turning a silvery green. The goats are getting restless and the chickens are going broody. 

There’s a song that comes to mind from one of my favorite musicals, The Secret Garden, called “Winter’s on the Wing”. It’s got a cheerful, hummable melody and the lyrics begin:

Winter's on the wing,

Here's a fine spring morn'

Comin' clean through the night.

Come the May, I say!

Winter's taken flight

Sweepin' dark cold air

Out to sea, spring is born

Comes the day, I say,

And you'll be here to see it!

Stand and breathe it all the day.

Stoop and feel it, stop and hear it:

Spring, I say!

It’s that one line that catches my attention, that sometimes loops in my head as March turns to April: And you’ll be here to see it.

Spring is coming, and we’re blessed to be here to see it. But only if we stop to see, smell, feel the signs. Only if we have a heart for phenology - the study of the seasons in a given place, the practice of taking heed of God's great, created liturgy of death and life. Since I was a child, I’ve always been captivated by cyclic signs and seasonal natural phenomena related to plants, animals and climate. I remember my grandmother identifying early spring birdsong (“The way those chickadees whistle at their girls! It’s almost crass!”), and my mother promising one more snowstorm after the robins returned. I watched closely for first and last signs of each season, noticing the mayapples and Canada geese, the sugar maples and the sumac berries, even in my earliest memories. My European immigrant family came by our phenological wisdom after a few short generations on this continent; the true source of all this place-based knowledge is generations of Indigenous science and culture.

At this point in early spring, I have to go outside to seek and find all these signs, which is a primary pleasure of farmwork. Soon, I won’t even have to leave my bed to know Spring in her fullness. The spring peepers and chorus frogs will start singing before dawn, so loudly we’ll hear them with windows shut. We hope to hear springtime thunder, soon, and to feel the air turn warmer. 

The Hebrew and Christian scriptures are filled with phenology. The Psalms sing of the secret habits of animals and birds and of the sky's revelation of glory by day and by night. God invites Job to marvel at the way creatures give birth at the proper time and tend their young through the changing seasons - whose wisdom is that? The writers of the Epistles teach the church through mentions of early rains and late rains, of the proper time to harvest. Jesus teaches using signs in nature as metaphor: "Let the fig tree teach you a lesson. When its branches become green and tender and it starts putting out leaves, you know that summer is near. ..” 

There is a time to every purpose under heaven, and so many of those purposes are mysteries that we can’t understand but only feel, taste, smell and glimpse. What a gift it is to be alive to witness the Resurrection, to find signs of it everywhere.

Blessed Holy Week and Happy Spring from all of us here at Good Courage Farm!

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Mar 26

Thank you Kerri, and the blessings of Holy Week to you all! Knowing the signs of your seasons of place and time of life is indeed deep wisdom. After years of trying to parse the Oakland seasons into my Midwestern framework, and then trying to simplify them into the wet/dry seasonal binary, I had nearly decided that the rhythm of this place was beyond me. Then I stumbled across a gardener deeply steeped in locally native plants. She suggested I look for 3 seasons: the time of sprouting and new growth, the time of ripening and fruiting, and the time of resting and dormancy. She said not to look for the kind of new growth that required a hard f…

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