Johnny-on-the-Spot … by John Foster
When the sun crosses the celestial equator in the northern hemisphere on or about September, headed in a southerly direction, we call that the “autumnal equinox”.
That’s where the term “autumn” comes from.
We also refer to that season as fall/
Conversely, on or about March 20th in the northern hemisphere, when the sun crosses the celestial equator headed in a northerly direction, it’s known as the “vernal equinox”.
Therefore, I think the season connected with the vernal equinox (spring) has every right to be known as “vern”.
So, allow me to be the first to say to you, effective at 5:24Pm EDT on Monday, March 20th, “Happy vern!”
Seems logical to me.
While the actual season always arrives at a specific time in the month of March, the weather can sometimes herald the season’s arrival before or after this date.
For me, spring arrived the last week of February in 2023.
That’s when we saw our first red-winged blackbird and then heard our first “spring peepers” a few evenings later.
Many think the robin is the real harbinger of spring but those orange-breasted birds aren’t migratory.
They’re more nomadic, shifting from trees and woodlands, near sources of open water, following their food sources (berries).
When temperatures start to climb into the mid to upper 30’s, they re-appear because the worms they like are beginning to move toward the sun as the soil warms up.
Redwing blackbirds, with their glossy black-feathered coats with red and light yellow shoulder patches (epaulets) start to move back to northern grassy areas and wetlands after wintering in the southern U.S. and Mexico.
They return to eat seeds and insects that were hibernating in the colder months.
Red winged blackbirds are said to be signs of good luck, symbolizing protection, safety and prosperity.
There was another sign of spring we looked for in Ohio.
On March 15h, the turkey buzzards always return to the Hinckley Reservation (part of the Cleveland Metropark system).
The buzzards actually arrive 4 days before another sign of spring, the swallows, return to the mission of Capistrano.
“Buzzard Day” has been officially celebrated since 1957 in the Medina County town, of about 8,000 residents, just south of Cleveland.
Why do the buzzards returm?
Some believe it was due to a great hunt in the late 1800’s, when the remains of animal carcasses thawed out and attracted the big birds.
The return to the area, known as Buzzard’s Roost on Whip’s Ledges is thought by some to coincide with the death of a woman hanged for practicing witchcraft.
The day’s celebration normally starts with a pancake and sausage breakfast at the Hinckley Elementary School.
The festivities include live music, trail hikes and bus tours with vendors selling hats and t-shirts while park rangers act as official spotters to keep a “buzzard tally”.
But the big birds return on the actual date and don’t really return due to spring truly arriving.
I mentioned “spring peepers” earlier.
These were what we called the frogs who chirp as soon as weather conditions warm enough to rouse the amphibians to begin their mating rituals.
They can make quite a racket in those swampy, marshy areas, especially early in the evening.
Some folks often say blooming crocuses are a a sure sign of spring.
While their brightly-colored blossoms are among the first to be seen in flower beds, I’ve always thought they were somewhat anxious.
Give them a day or two of warm sunshine and they’re ready to announce the arrival of spring when many times, their blossoms get pounded down by a heavy, wet snow.
Blooming white snowdrops and daffodils are usually a better indicator that spring has shown up despite what the calendar says.
We also have Daylight Savings Time which occurs this time every year.
That happens whether the season has arrived or not.
But I do find it gratifying as an early-riser to see sunlight in the eastern sky a bit earlier in the morning since that day way back in December.
Regardless of what our legislators decree, the amount of sunlight is increasing daily, whether sunrise happens before 7AM or 8AM.
So we do that March dance known as “springing forward” to Daylight Savings Time at 2AM on Sunday, March 23rd this year.
So, three days earlier this March 20th when we have exactly 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness, would you join me in ushering in spring with a hearty, “Welcome vern!” in honor of the vernal equinox.
I’ll let “vern” figure it out if we’re actually saving any daylight.