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Essay: Waiting For Spring

Robin perched on the tree branch with yellow leaves against blue sky
Essayist Beth Lueck says seeing her first robin of the year is one of the ways she marks that spring is finally arriving.

Lake Effect essayist Beth Lueck captures the sights, sounds and sensations of spring in her essay "Waiting For Spring."

After a year of enforced hibernation of a sort due to the pandemic, I feel desperate for spring. When will it arrive? Why is it still snowing in March when I’m so ready for rain and spring flowers? Why is there still a snowflake on the weather calendar for next week — even among all the little icons for rain? Normally I’m much more patient, even enjoying these weeks of transition between winter and spring.

But there’s so much of spring already evident. We just have to look for it. The first snowdrops popped up through the leaf litter in the second week of March; now there are hundreds in my backyard. Then it took a few sunny days in the 60s for the snowdrops to open, their white buds unfolding like tiny umbrellas — with three pointed, delicate petals facing the earth, hiding three inner petals tipped with green.

Just after the snowdrops appeared the first crocuses shot thin green leaves above the debris of last year’s leaves, and a day or two later small cream-colored crocuses opened under the mock orange shrub in my backyard. The pale lavender-blue crocuses that the British call “Tommies” — a more delicate crocus that my mother back east shared with me decades ago — have been blooming out front for more than a week. Each spring when they appear as soon as the snowpack melts, I remember my mother and the spectacle of hundreds of crocuses blooming in the grass in her front yard in March.

If you are very lucky, you may catch a glimpse of Dutchman’s breeches in a woodsy area in your neighborhood or in a park; waving their white bloomers in the air, they’re a native ephemeral flower that will disappear entirely a few weeks after blooming.

If you don’t have crocuses or Dutchman’s breeches to enjoy in your neighborhood, look for the burgeoning buds on the trees. The linden tree in my backyard sports tiny red buds — almost invisible until I get up close — that swell as the weather begins to warm. The buds of next year’s leaves in some deciduous trees are actually forming in the summer, and the dropping leaves of yellow or orange or brown in the autumn, in a process called abscission, reveals the buds that will become the following year’s green leaves. What magic is happening in our backyards and parks!

Of course robins are also a sure sign of spring, albeit a hackneyed one. This year my first robin arrived with the snowdrops — both basking in those first few days of warm, sunny weather. Once the two feet of snow cover had melted, the robin appeared in my backyard along the fence, where it was busily foraging for food in the leaf litter.

In another sign that spring is in progress, the goldfinches that flocked to our feeders in the winter in their drab disguise begin to fledge. Gradually the olive-brown feathers molt and are replaced by yellow, until the male is revealed in all his golden gorgeousness and the female is touched with enough yellow to be identified as his mate. Zooming in to the seed socks hanging from my still leafless linden tree, they remind me that spring is truly on the way. In contrast, the pair of cardinals that plucked the black oil sunflower seeds out of my little moon feeder all winter long aren’t putting on a fresh suit for spring, but I do see them in new places in the yard — the brilliant red male, for instance, has been hanging out in the bridal wreath spirea, perhaps checking it out for a nesting site.

Although the squirrels that steal birdseed from our feeders hang around all winter, chipmunks hibernate — if only lightly. I don’t see a single one from November till March, and even the cats seem to miss their lively presence in the serviceberry outside the dining room windows. On the second or third warm spell in the spring, I spotted a pair of chipmunks in the honeysuckle, its branches still bare. They’ve emerged from their burrow under the front porch and have paused for a moment — watching me watching them. As sure as their stripey presence in the backyard, where shoots of green are springing up everywhere, spring is on the way. Maybe it’s already here.