The March of Time, the Time of March

by Conrad Vispo


It’s hard to take a March snow seriously. It’s a bit like a teenager putting on a suit and tie for the first time: there’s too much life about for such a stricture to be worn naturally. But snow it does today, the 15th of March. Given the foresight from the forecast, I knew that something was coming, that those few flakes which began to fall in the early afternoon were in serious, harbingers of a few more inches. As the birds greeted that morning, it was hard to hear their songs without a tinge a sadness; theirs being the delight of innocent ignorance. And later on, when the snow begins, the birds pause as if to ask, “It’s not really going to…?”.

Beneath their silence, a dry whisper from the leaf litter, a crystalline hiss - the sound of snow falling on the winter-dried leaves of last autumn. It is so unobtrusive a noise that I don’t even notice when it disappears as the leaves become muffled beneath the snow. Out near these woods a couple of weeks before, when new snow seemed so out-dated, my two year old son had been eager to show me the first bugs in flight, conspicuous black dots on the last white remnants. Now I see that the spiders were not idle either: a snow flake dances in suspended animation, trapped between sky and earth by a spider’s web. In a light breeze, it spins and struggles like a caught fly, and I wonder if the spider ran out to the first flake that its netting captured, mouth watering so to speak. And the killdeer, early on the pastures, spread their wings by the running water at the cattle crossing and scurry across the black, steaming ridge line of the manure pile. Their elongated peeps seem strange and even more plaintive over this white ground.

No doubt the stranger is in me. This land has seen many a spring snow. It and its denizens have evolved the genetic knowledge that this can happen. Not that, as individuals, the spider or the killdeer won’t suffer, but as species such an event runs in their blood. It is what makes the timing of their spring arrival or awakening a crapshoot; it is what makes this balance between lusty Spring and the Winter’s dearth such a delicate and hesitant moment. It is I who call this strange, perhaps because I can hope to take it so lightly, because I approach this event as a spectator, rather than as a member of Winter or of Spring themselves.

On the morning after the snowfall, the crows cry raucously, “I told you so”, and some small mustelid making rounds has left tracks from where she slept beneath the brush pile, while across the creek another seems to have done the same with a to and fro from ‘tween the roots of a red oak. This is no scene of massacre, though perhaps here or there a songbird, starved from its long flight, fell victim to Spring’s cruel surprises. Indeed, it’s peaceful in the woods, Winter saying to Spring, “Calm your horses.” That’s fine by me, my vernal calendar holds too many plans to be welcomed without a touch of regret. Midst my modern obsessions, seasons are more chronology than moment.

And did and do the birds, with Nature’s unspoken, sublime grammar (for, of course, the words that I have had them mouth are mine), express the same equivocal purview over our bloodied fields of battle or other venues where we choose to batter ourselves? That nature can be a mere spectator at our tragedies - conscious or unconscious but, no matter, present - is not to minimize our wounds. No indeed, it is simply cause for us to see our magnitude, at once grand and trivial, and to note that nothing holds us from our fates, save perhaps ourselves.

This Spring snow is wonder and beauty, but surely something that few creatures would have ordered had the Waiter asked. Do we fool ourselves to think that we are any more able to stay the ‘weather’, grim as it may be, just because it falls from our own hands?