Spring’s arrival confirmed by brighter days - Take on Nature

As we travel through spring, it’s important to enjoy what the season has to offer

The returning chiffchaff's call is a sure sign that spring has arrived.
The returning chiffchaff's call is a sure sign that spring has arrived

Having moved beyond the Celtic festival of Imbolg at the start of February and then March 1, the third and final marker for spring’s arrival, the vernal or spring equinox, occurred during the week on March 20, meaning all of us in the Northern Hemisphere will now enjoy more daylight hours for the weeks and months ahead.

Hearing the chiffchaff sing happily during the week after its return from North Africa confirms too that the earth is still turning and spring is here, as we finally lean further and closer towards the sun’s rays. Although the weather has been indifferent, the natural world is fully attuned, as birds nest build, yellow primrose, celandine, and wood anemone brighten our woodland floors and pregnant tree buds continue to swell.

Another sign of spring was evident recently when I witnessed a pair of dippers propelling out from under cover of an old stone bridge, flying directly upstream as they hugged the contours of the tributary river.

white-throated dipper bird in the mountain river
White-throated dipper bird in a mountain river (Marc Andreu/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

I took a few moments to enjoy their place in the world, a niche space of fast flowing, tumbling water, where the bird bobs up and down on submerged stones, and dives below water, defying currents, to search for aquatic insects. The dipper, short-tailed and dumpy, is suitably equipped to probe turbulent rivers, with a powerful squat build allowing it to swim and walk under water in pursuit of quarry.

Chocolate brown above and sporting a distinctive white throat bib and breast with a narrow chestnut band lower down, Cinclus cinclus hibernicus, from the Greek, ‘tail-wagging’, referencing its bobbing up and down, is an Irish subspecies, bearing some subtle colour differences to the British dipper.

Watching the birds as they journeyed upstream, I considered the lines from William Blake’s poem Eternity: “He who kisses the joy as it flies/Lives in eternity’s sun rise”, and the implied sense of relishing those times in life when happiness and joy present themselves.

Along with the dippers, a soaring buzzard ‘mewing’ above, and an acrobatic red squirrel nearby, it was easy to ‘touch’ or ‘kiss’ these joys as they appeared.

I suspect the pair of dippers, ‘lon abhann’, river blackbird or ‘gabha dhubh’, blacksmith, were checking out the possibility of somewhere safe under the bridge for a nest site.

The early appearance of a primrose smiling in the garden makes your heart sing
The early appearance of a primrose smiling in the garden makes your heart sing

On the way home the mood changed when I saw the remains of a hedgehog on the road, a vehicle casualty no doubt, hit as it tried crossing the road, its plan of finding a mate for the breeding season ahead, brutally dashed. Hedgehogs are especially vulnerable now as they emerge from hibernation, and seek to quickly put on weight, lost during their winter torpor. This sight reeled me back again to Blake’s four lined poem which in full reads:

“He who binds to himself a joy

Does the winged life destroy

He who kisses the joy as it flies

Lives in eternity’s sun rise.”

Urging us, yes, to enjoy pleasing occurrences, but also to not ‘bind’ ourselves to them, rather let them go, as like life they are fleeting, and things move on. By implication, the same must apply to the sombre and difficult occasions as they too will pass.

When back home I reflected on the joy of seeing the dippers breeze along above the river surface and the sadness at encountering the dead hedgehog. Blake’s words helped me both embrace and cast off the emotions triggered by these different experiences.

As we travel through spring, maybe we can try to ‘kiss the joy as it flies’ and enjoy what the season has to offer.