…In the spring a fuller crimson comes upon the robin’s breast;
In the spring the wanton lapwing gets himself another crest;
In the spring a livelier iris changes on the burnish’d dove;
In the spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love….
— Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “Locksley Hall”
Lord Tennyson’s words are among the classic introductions to spring, which the calendar has brought to us upon the wings of a cool breeze and the vernal equinox.
Few are the words, though, that honor that last day of winter – the day some might feel best forgotten.
We tour the town and the rural countryside to seek the words and scenes fitting to adequately honor the old winter’s last day.
It’s that last day of winter when school students still are wearing snowsuits and aren’t allowed out for recess without their boots. It’s still winter, after all.
It’s that last day of winter when people still have to bundle up to take their dogs for walks, do their farm chores or otherwise carry on with daily outdoor duties.
It’s that last day of winter when an American Legion bugler has to find his ear-muffs to add his mournful 24 notes of Taps to the breeze during a departed comrade’s last earthly honors.
The grass has found its way from under the snow by the time winter’s last day arrives. And so much forgotten during winter reveals itself on that last day.
Piles of icy snow remain, their crystals signs that the snow is finally relenting to March’s high sun.
Sitting behind the window of a house or a barn or a pickup truck might fool us into thinking spring already has made its visit. We venture outside to realize the sun’s intense glare reflected off the remaining snow, which momentarily offers warmth. But after a few moments, that solar warmth is pushed aside by winter’s last breeze pulling chilled goosebumps from the ice and depositing them on our skin.
I’d been away from our farmyard for most of this last winter’s day, only to have seen it playing out in those aforementioned ways. The chill settled in the goosebumps the wind had deposited onto me – in great part because I’d dressed for a spring day instead of a winter day. A lament of foolishness about my clothing choice swirled in my mind when I happened upon the Leopold benches parked under the overhang on the west side of our old farmhouse.
The sun by then had passed its noon midpoint and started its late-afternoon journey into the western sky. Its full March warmth found me at those benches, which our old house’s angles were keeping out of the wind.
And there, the sun offered a eulogy for winter and prepared for the morrow’s baptism of another new spring. That last day of winter was reluctantly passing the season’s torch on to spring’s warmer days.
I took my place on the Leopold bench to ponder for a few moments the passing of that winter and of spring’s arrival. There was some joy in the seasons’ exchange; there was reflection and wonder in how there got to be so many such exchanges during my lifetime.
Where has winter gone?
What will spring offer?
When did those many seasons catch up to my being?
There on that bench, I found solace in having known so many winters-turned-springs.
There on that bench, I took joy in the fortune of having been given so many winters-turned-springs.
All the birds that stayed at our farm through the depths of winter’s snow and cold likely would remain through the seasonal exchange. In a few weeks, they would be joined by those birds and butterflies and bugs that prefer only warm seasons.
The neighborhood beef cattle-, horses- and deer-in-residence soon would graze in pastures green.
The trees would bud and leaf; the flowers would sprout and blossom.
In a few weeks, tractors and planters would take to the northern Driftless Area’s fields. Gardens would be planted in anticipated of homegrown bounties of goodness.
An old friend once told me that Aldo Leopold had designed the benches named for him to be a bit uncomfortable so as to not hold wanderlust-filled spirits in contemplation too long in a single place. Honoring that, I rose from my bench and moved on to the next chore.
With me moved winter’s last light and its wind’s last whispers through the farmyard trees’ branches. The moon, which on coming equinox would be full in celebration of the new season, was glowing in the east.
I honored the eulogy whispered on the wind, but mourned only for the aging in my own bones marked by its passing.
There was respect in my spirit for winter’s time here, but I’d shed no tears. Instead, I silently promised myself only a return to that bench the next day to join the full moon in celebrating the new spring.
— Scott Schultz