2016-06-30
There is a cold breeze. Thick fat snow flakes swirl in a cloud. Two birds twitter in the bare trees. It is less than two weeks past the first day of spring-the vernal equinox-here on my mountain in the Catskills of New York and I have just composed this Haiku:

Thick black line through white;
A stream pushes through the snow.
Spring burbles its way.

I think of this time of year as a border time. It is neither this nor that-winter nor spring-but a shifting between two seasons. The border is not fixed now. It is permeable. The seasons slide back and forth within hours or minutes or, sometimes, even seconds.

Spring is returning. Life is resurrected. And living creatures pass over from the dead of winter into the burst of spring. Spring is returning. Funny that we speak only of spring returning. Fall doesn't return. Summer doesn't return. Winter doesn't come back. Yet, while they all return in fact, only spring returns in our language.

The Seneca Indians believed that all nature is sentient-that there is a consciousness in the snow, the birds, the stream. As I see the stream rushing through the still banks of snow, they both speak of the coexistence of opposites. For each season contains its opposite.

It is in the darkest day of the year that the sun is born. December 21, the winter solstice, is the shortest day. From that point onward to the summer solstice, the sun extends its dominance upon the earth. It is in the darkest night of winter that the Persian god Mithra was born. Many Romans adopted Mithra and celebrated his birthday on the winter solstice, often December 25, a few days after solstice when the light had begun to creep back. The emperor Constantine was a follower of Mithra until he declared Christianity to be the state religion. And, three hundred years after the birth of Jesus, Constantine declared December 25 to be Jesus' birthday. The birth of the Sun-the birth of the Son. The birthdays of Mithra and Jesus remind us that light is born out of darkness.

Death and resurrection is the rite of spring. In Jewish tradition, Passover marks the release of the Jewish people from bondage in Egypt. It is no coincidence that this freedom from bondage is celebrated at the beginning of spring. The celebration of the passage of the Jews from slavery into the land of milk and honey is also a celebration of spring. Its origins lie in the very ancient spring festivals commemorating the birth of the first lambs of the year.

The Greek portrayed the transition from winter to spring in the story of Persephone. Persephone was the daughter of Zeus and Demeter, the goddess of the harvest. Even the gods found her breathtakingly beautiful. When Hades, lord of the dead and ruler of the nether world, saw her, he was stricken with desire. One day, as Persephone was collecting flowers, Lord Hades rose up through a crack in the earth and abducted her.

Only Zeus and Helios, the sun, saw the abduction. When Demeter found out what had occurred, she was so angry that she withdrew herself from the world. With the self-exile of the goddess of the harvest, the earth became barren. To punish the inhabitants of the earth, Demeter sent forth bitter cold, ice, and blistering winds.

This state of affairs could not continue indefinitely or life on earth would come to an end. Zeus, through his emissary, Hermes, brokered a deal with Lord Hades. Grudgingly, Hades agreed to allow Persephone to spend two thirds of the year with her mother. But the other one third of the year, Persephone would join him in the underworld. During the months when her daughter was in the underworld, Demeter refused to let anything grow. Winter began. With the return of Persephone above ground, spring commenced.

Around the world, people celebrate spring as a time of rebirth. The root of the word, "resurrection" is literally to rise again as spring does cyclically every year.

German and Anglo-Saxon people celebrate the return of spring with a festival dedicated to the goddess of spring. This goddess, Eostre or Ostara was the ruler of spring, offspring, and the dawn-new beginnings. She was the deity who measured time. There was also the ancient Phoenician goddess of the moon, Astarte. And, in the Jewish tradition, the festival of Purim, also observed in spring, celebrated the power of queen Esther to resist the evil Haman and prevent him from killing her people. Eostre, Ostara, Astarte, Esther-all powerful women. And this, too, makes, sense. For spring is about birth and rebirth-the province of women and the goddesses who represent that principle from the dawn of time.

Among many Native American peoples, spring is a time of gathering to celebrate the riches of the land. It is a time of gathering to celebrate the return of life. Among the Illinois, spring was a time of tapping maple trees. For the Makah, Chinook, and Tillamook of the Northwest, spring meant a return to the sea. Spring was when the salmon ran. When they caught the first salmon, the person in charge of the ceremony would put the head of the salmon in a certain direction to make sure that the fish would return the next year.

In China, the celebration of spring has merged into the celebration of the new year. Originally, the new year arrived with spring. In the passing of millennia it has become more of a winter festival. However, originally, the Chinese celebrated the spring festival at the end of winter with dancing, feasting, and singing. Over time the festival came to represent the end of the old year and beginning of the new.

The path of spring is strewn with colored flowers. Scented air marks that path. "The flowers that bloom in the spring, tra la, bring promise of merry sunshine." In India, Holi day is the main celebration of spring. Holi is a time when people get rid of unwanted things and burn them. Then, on the actual Holi day, Dhulandi, people splash each other with colored water and powders-the colors of spring.

The Parsis celebrate the spring equinox as Navrole. Some of them see this day as the new year. And in fact, the name, Navrole literally means new day. They celebrate the new day with housecleaning, new clothes, and a colorful painting of the house. Traditionally, Jews, in anticipation of Passover, engage in a thorough house cleaning. In the west, spring cleaning has become a secular annual event.

The light of spring is contained within the dark of winter. Maybe that's why the ancient Germanic tribes burned the Yule log on the darkest day and sat up all night to ensure the return of light. And, if winter is a time of hibernation and returning to our caves, then spring is a time of awakening and reconnecting. It is a time of clearing out the old, removing the debris from the ground, from our houses and from our minds.

Spring is the promise of life. It is a reminder of the cycles of our lives. We, in the west, who have been so removed from the natural cycles of the seasons, can see these cycles more clearly with the advent of spring. It is a time for our renewal and affirmation. It is a metaphor for the light that exists within the darkness of our times.

The snowflakes have gone and come several times this morning. The sun has come out, hidden behind the clouds and then come out again. Now, bright square particles of light play upon my floor. Spring light is coming.

Spring Explorations

Finding Spring

We can enjoy the season even more if we are deliberately conscious of it. So, simple as it sounds, you'll be surprised how it deepens your sense of the season to try to find as many examples of spring as you can. Make a list. Just put down all the things that you notice or feel that make spring spring. These can be sounds, smells, sights, even a change in your own moods. Just as we can see spring in winter, so we can see the passing winter and the coming summer in spring.

See if you can find the ways that winter is still here. Then look for the signs of summer. Check out nature but also check into your own feelings.

Cleaning House

Many cultures see spring as a time of clearing out the old to prepare for the new. In terms of ancient human rhythms, it would make more natural sense if people made New Year's resolutions at spring time. So if your January resolutions have gotten stale, consider making a new set to honor the season's new life. Take the time to think about your own spring cleaning. Look at it in two ways. First, consider all the material things you keep meaning to clear out. Is there anything stopping you? Then think of what old ideas, habits, and conditioned responses you might want to get rid of. How can you?

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