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Ralph Gardner Jr: The Stages Of Spring

Early spring in Central Park
Ralph Gardner Jr.
Early spring in Central Park

I have this theory that the season when you were born is your favorite season. Perhaps that’s because if you came from a reasonably happy family your parents made a big fuss over your birthday and you got lots of presents.

Having said that, I don’t understand how anybody can pick any season other than spring as his or her favorite. And it’s not just because I was born in June.

I was trying to articulate to myself what it is I love so much after spring, what makes it a slam dunk over winter, summer and fall, though I acknowledge those also-rans have their virtues.

By the way, I was having this colloquy with myself a couple of weeks ago while walking through Central Park; it was verily exploding with magnolia and cherry blossoms.

If you happen to spend any time in New York City and also upstate you actually experience two springs, since by my unscientific calculus the season kicks off approximately three weeks later here, at least where I’m located in Columbia County.

When the branches are still bare at our house they’re budding in the city. And by the time the blossoms have fallen to the ground in the city they’re just starting to bud upstate.

In other words, you’re doubly blessed.

But just to complicate things further, in my ruminations on spring I realized that one of the aspects that elevates it above the other seasons is its variety. Spring might be said to be not one but almost three interconnected seasons.

The first one bears a remarkable resemblance to winter. Late March can still be pretty cold, the light harsh, the branches of trees barren.

I believe it’s what, in Vermont, is referred to with begrudging acceptance and respect as “mud season.”

Then there’s the middle part of the season when trees start to bud, when the Earth seems to wake from its slumber. That’s the part when trees get their first, subtle blush of green. You almost have to observe them against a backdrop of blue sky to perceive their delicacy.

But as they leaf out over the next couple of weeks – sometimes it seems to take no more than a single warm day to spark their ambition – they turn a particularly lyrical shade of light green that seems the essence of optimism.

My mother passed away in late February and I wasn’t looking forward to the task of cleaning out her apartment. But returning to my own apartment through Central Park on the first day I tackled the assignment, the early spring air was so filled with birdsong that it served as a sweet reminder that life is perpetually renewing itself.

That’s the other thing about spring. It’s a team effort. Birds are major players. Migration begins. Even those species that don’t migrate seem noticeably more boisterous and melodious as they search for mates.

Goldfinch live up to their names, the males dropping their nondescript winter coats for the dazzling yellow of spring.

I stored my better birdfeeders against hungry bears at the start of April, following the advice of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

But then I realized one of my favorite signs of spring is spotting rose-breasted grosbeaks placidly feeding at my egg-shaped, cherry red birdfeeder. The two seem an ensemble.

And it would be a pity to forgo that experience. Is it worth the cost of a new feeder; a couple of years ago bears did indeed smash it to smithereens? I almost think it would be.

But getting back to that notion of spring in three acts. The final act comes around mid-May when all the trees have leafed out, even the oaks that seem among the last to blossom.

That’s the other thing about spring – it turns you into a student of nature as no other season does. I’ve noticed that the maples that surround our house bud at different times. I suspect it’s a function of age, the younger, stronger ones starting first; than the middle-aged, and finally the senior citizens, tress that have been around a hundred years or more.

By the time summer rolls around you hardly notice the change of seasons; summer segues almost imperceptibly from spring. There’s none of the drama that attended spring’s transformation from winter.

Summer’s metamorphosis occurs when August’s slanting light turns to September’s shortening days and leaves start to seesaw to the ground.

You can argue with my analysis of the seasons. You can also find much to appreciate in the other seasons. If not you might want to consult a pharmacologist or move to southern California.

But I think we can all agree that no other season has as much going on, offers the senses quite as much stimulous, as spring does. 

Ralph Gardner, Jr. is a journalist who divides his time between New York City and Columbia County. More of his work can be found at ralphgardner.com

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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