Jim McGuire: A strange springtime

Spring! Is it finally here?

Not here by the calendar—here by what we envision and expect spring in Ohio to be; a cozy, gentle spring, more or less the same as other springs we’ve experienced.

I think this has been a strange spring. And I’m not referring to the coronavirus and its attendant exigencies.

What I’m talking about is weather…but more broadly, season.

Spring as defined by the abstract astronomical reckoning of modern season definition has been with us since March. And I grant you that visually, the landscape is well into the process of undergoing its vernal metamorphosis—steadily dressing winter’s stark monotones in a lush and welcome cloak of verdant green.

But from its beginnings until now—just five weeks away from summer’s official start—2020’s iteration of spring has seemed unusual, even by southwestern-Ohio’s typically fickle standards!

Anyone who’s lived hereabouts for a few years certainly understands our spring isn’t an abrupt change. Rather, it’s a gradual process, with lots of hesitations and backtracking.

A friend once wryly observed how spring in Ohio “never simply materializes to take over without a fuss—it prefers to sneakily evolve!”

Which is absolutely true.

We hardcore Buckeyes realistically expect a new spring to continue serving up helpings of cold—with likely a snow or two. Ice and frost will have their moments. Frequent rains are invariably part of the equation.

That’s how Ohio does spring. Yet overall, the trend will be in a positive direction, gradually improving. Warmer, sunnier, more pleasant as the weeks click along.

Not temperate picture-perfect weather straightaway—but a progressive and encouraging routine we recognize. We have faith in spring because we’ve been down the same pathway before and know where the trail leads.

That doesn’t seem to have been the case this year. Maybe it’s just me. But I believe our current spring has been notably different. Anomalous, odd—too cold, too cloudy. More dark, dank and dreary than any I can recall. Peculiarly atypical and disconcertingly unfamiliar.

Waves of colorful warblers have recently been passing through, flitting amongst the willows, sycamores and box elders along the river. Nearby woodlands are filled with their ringing songs.

But so far this year, I’ve yet to see a single slender queen snake sunning on the wooden rails of the cottage’s riverside deck. I’m pretty sure they have a den—a hiberniculum—in the rocky fill under the building’s foundation. These gentle snakes typically begin showing up by mid-April. On a bright, balmy morning I might see a half-dozen or more draped beneath the leaves of the twinning grape vine, warming their cold reptilian blood before dropping into the water to hunt for minnows and similar aquatic tidbits.

So where are my queen snakes? Has it simply been too cold?

If so, I surely understand.

Until just a few days ago, we’ve needed an overnight fire in the woodstove. And we’ve kept it burning most mornings and often throughout the day!

During a typical spring, by the time we get to May, I’m done with sawing and splitting logs. Any firewood remaining in the woodbox is just for taking off an occasional morning chill.

But not this spring!

I’ve already bought more gas for the chainsaw. And I keep wondering whether to call my tree-service buddy and have him drop off another truckload of ash and maple.

A gardening friend recently bemoaned the struggles he’s having trying to get plants out and seeds sown. He’s also been working to keep certain seedlings already in the ground from being killed during the freezing cold nights.

“I’m probably not going to have many tomatoes this year,” he lamented. “Especially not my heirloom varieties.”

Every year, he generously shares those rare and delicious treats with me. Plus bags and boxes filled with all sorts of fresh-picked veggies. I commiserated right along with him.

Like I said, maybe this is just my take on spring as it’s felt and seemed so far. Subjective rather than objective.

Even if I’m right, I hope we’ve turned the corner and what remains of this year’s spring finishes out in fine fettle.

I’m tired of this strange version of spring. Tired of the clouds and gloom, tired of the rain and cold. I’m tired of needing to wear a jacket and shivering when I don’t.

And I’m especially tired of wading knee-deep in my beloved smallmouth streams and having to occasionally retreat onto a gravel bar because I’m about to turn into a popsicle.

It’s spring! I want to start worrying about getting sunburned—not frostbit!

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By Jim McGuire

Contributing Columnist

Jim McGuire, a nature columnist, resides in Englewood, and can be reached at naturalwanders@gmail.com.