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There's something about spring

Word has it that the season of spring is upon us. These days that sounds more like a rumor or wishful thinking.

Spring remains an elusive idea. It's cold outside. Cold and blustery. The skies are grey. It rains a lot and people are coughing and sneezing as the flu keeps recycling. It feels more like Christmas than Easter. Or like February got stuck and keeps repeating itself.

Crocuses and daffodils are pretending like 40 degrees is perfectly acceptable spring weather. Trees are in bloom. The birds are returning and getting down to business. We have an Easter lily on our kitchen table whose five opening blossoms are trumpeting out the news that spring has indeed arrived and Easter is near.

Meanwhile, our furnace is still churning out warm air to all the chilly rooms in our house. I still wear gloves to work and put on a sweater before I sit down at my computer.

For the record, spring officially began on Thursday, March 20. Easter is this Sunday, March 23, one of the earliest Easters in my memory.

Unlike Christmas, which is meant to commemorate a birthday and therefore celebrated on the same date every year, Easter is a movable feast. If I were Easter, I'd move to a different weekend this year, like sometime in late April.

Easter commemorates an event and the time for marking that event was set back in early days for the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox.

Many festivals in the Jewish calendar are timed to coincide with the new or full moon. But in the Christian calendar, Easter is one of the few celebrations that is attached to such astronomical conditions.

This year, both the full moon and the equinox are on March 20. So, cold or no cold, Easter's on its way. Again, for the record, we have two equinoxes every year — in the autumn and in the spring. They serve as the harbinger of what we can expect for the next six months in the way of light.

At each equinox we start off with dark and light in parity. The days are as long as the nights — 12 hours each. But the very next day, the balance shifts.

After the autumn equinox in September the days gradually get shorter and the nights get longer until the longest night of the year, the winter solstice on Dec. 21.

The equinox that occurred on March 20 portends the opposite. The days gradually grow longer and the nights shorter, culminating in the longest day of the year, the summer solstice on June 21.

And you can be sure that the same people who are complaining about how cold and dreary it is now will be whining about how hot and stuffy it is in mid-summer.

Our ancestors kept a close eye on these pivotal equinox moments. In the autumn it gave them a heads up for harvesting, putting food by and getting the house ready to ride out the winter — get firewood, patch leaks on the roof, etc.

In the spring, people geared up for the cycle of preparing the soil, planting and tending the animals in preparation for the heat of the summer — water for the crops and the animals, and finding shade.

The spring equinox is called the "vernal" or green equinox. The calendar notwithstanding, last weekend the Greensprings was anything but green. About 8 inches of snow fell up there.

But spring is a promise. It's a state of being, a season of the soul rather than just a time of year. The promise says that the cold will grow warm. The hard ground will soften and yield new life. The tight bundles of buds on trees and shrubs will unfold and burst into delicate blossoms.

That's what our ancestors had in mind when they celebrated their versions of spring festivals. And I'm sure that's what the trees, the birds and the Easter lily on our table are about these first moments of spring.

They don't have time to complain. They're too busy celebrating.