EASTER is the spring festival, writes Dick Warner
All the iconography of eggs and baby bunnies, even the tradition of slaughtering an early lamb for the feast that marks the end of Lent, it all has to do with new growth and the change in the season.
Unfortunately Easter is a moveable feast and this year it was very early. The religious calendar is out of sync with the calendar of nature.
I am using a garden fork to turn over the soil in the vegetable garden and remove the dandelions and creeping buttercups that have survived the winter. I need to prepare the plot to receive seed potatoes of the first early varieties. The soil is still very cold to the touch. The temperature may get into double figures during the day, when I’m out in the garden, but when I’m indoors at night it slumps back and the 24-four hour average is still too low to kick-start much growth. The grass still has a slightly muddy, downtrodden look to it. The soil temperature has to exceed the magic 6C to produce a flush of fresh green.
The man-made concept of a moveable Easter is compounded by the equally artificial notion of advancing our clocks by one hour. Subconsciously, we make the false assumption that suddenly there’s much more daylight — a great stretch in the evenings.
Of course there is more daylight. Not a sudden surge caused by the peculiar idea of moving the hands of the clock forward but an imperceptibly small increase every day. And this does have an effect on nature, irrespective of the temperature of the soil. Three main factors control the timing of the arrival of spring — day length, soil moisture and soil temperature. The relative importance of each of the three varies according to the species of plant (or, to a somewhat lesser extent, the species of bird or animal). It’s all quite complex and there are aspects of it which are still not totally understood.
Rainfall amounts were quite low for most of March but the preceding winter was so wet that the soil was carrying surplus amounts of water and, if my garden is anything to go by, soil moisture content is quite good at present and the two or three weeks of dry weather have had practically no impact.
There may be little growth in the grass but if I look beyond the fields towards the fringe of the bog a dramatic blaze of yellow furze blossom proves some plants are relatively unaffected by the coldness of the ground.
Despite the defiant blossoming of the furze there is a sense in the outdoors that nature is waiting for something to happen.
Most of the winter migrant birds have left and few of the summer migrants have arrived. It’s rather quiet, as though war has been declared but the hostilities have not yet started. Spring is dragging its heels.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved