Is it Spring?

03/20/02 12:00AM By Steve Zind
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(Host) Today marks the Vernal Equinox: one of two times in the year when the sun is directly over the equator. The equinox officially marks the first day of spring. In Vermont, the most obvious signs of the season are yet to come but VPR's Steve Zind went out in search of spring.


(Sound of a running brook.)

(Zind) When you think of spring, what sound comes to mind? A brook running with snow melt? More likely it's spring peepers or songbirds. In Vermont, the Spring Equinox arrives earlier than these things. So is it really spring? If you look closely, you can find a few emerging clues. It takes a detective like naturalist Bryan Pfieffer to find them:

(Pfieffer) "Is it spring? Yea, I think it is spring!"

(Zind) Pfeiffer says budding pussy willows and flowering silver maples are among the harbingers of spring. In fact many of the early signs are in the trees:

(Pfeiffer) "If you look around in areas where there are lots of lichens on trees, you'll just start to see them looking a bit greener, or a bit oranger or yellower. It's getting into the time of the year when there's better opportunity for photosynthesis and the algal component, the photobiant part of the lichen, they start to glow a little bit."

(Zind) If you're a little rusty at spotting photobiants, Pfeiffer says there are some more obvious signs of spring:

(Sounds of Pfeiffer making bird calls.)

(Zind) The male Redwing Blackbirds have arrived for the season. They're staking out territory around marshes and ponds. Pfeiffer tries to coax a song from one. (Sound of Pfeiffer making a blackbird call, no blackbird answers.) On this overcast, chilly day with a fresh layer of snow, even the blackbird seems skeptical about spring's arrival.

(Sound of horses pulling a sled.)

(Zind) In Braintree, Jim Crossley and his son John are collecting sap from a hundred buckets scattered through the woods around their house. The Crossley's two workhorses, Abby and Cal pull a galvanized tank strapped to a sled over the rocky ground of the Crossley's hill farm. For Crossley, sugaring is a sign that spring is at least on the way:

(Crossley) "I think a lot of the old timers did it because there wasn't anything to do in the springtime, so I kind of have the same attitude. It's a good time of year to get out and get in the sunshine get ready for the springtime. But it's not really springtime. No it isn't. Not yet."

(Zind) There are a few places in Vermont where you could say spring has arrived, wrapped in plastic. The air is warm, the ground is soft under your feet and you can run your hand over green seedlings. Tim Sanford's spring starts at the beginning of March inside his South Royalton greenhouse:

(Sanford) "It does feel like spring. 'Nothing like coming into the greenhouse. The scent of warm moist soil and humidity makes it feel like spring."

(Zind) Sanford's two dogs play underfoot while Sanford and a helper carefully seed rows of flats of flowers and vegetables. (Sound of baby chicks.) In a corner of the greenhouse, there's a box of baby chicks. They'll grow to be laying hens:

(Sanford) "It's very enjoyable to be out here this time of the year. When our kids were younger, they used to come out here and have their trucks, playing around in the soil. We'd have a great time."

(Zind) Chicks and newborn animals are another sign of spring. At Bill and Suzan Nixon's Braintree farm, lambing is well underway.

(Zind) "Is this a sign of spring for you?"
(Nixon) Oh yes, you mean the lambing. Absolutely, we've been lambing now for about two weeks."


(Zind) Some people claim there's another way to prove spring has arrived: the balancing egg. Each year at the equinox, the sun is positioned directly over the equator. Theoretically, at that moment the sun's gravitational pull is at a 90-degree angle to the earth's axis. Somehow that means you should be able to balance an egg on end.

(Sound of a gate opening, chickens.)

(Zind) They say it works best if you use a fresh egg. Ideally, one that's been laid on the day of the equinox. It takes a smooth, level surface and a steady hand.

Scientifically minded people say the equinox has nothing to do with standing an egg on end. They argue that some people have egg-balancing talents, others don't. They've even conducted experiments to prove that getting an egg to stand upright is a matter of skill, not timing. (Sound of an egg rolling across a table.)

(Zind) Of course, there could be a different explanation. Maybe in order to stand an egg on end on the spring equinox, you have to first really believe spring has actually arrived in Vermont. Those who can't are still waiting for spring.

For Vermont Public Radio, I'm Steve Zind in Braintree.

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