Rarely has the arrival and advance of spring felt so welcome, or so dramatic.
After one of the wettest, windiest winters in England I can remember – the country waterlogged and windswept for months – the new season has arrived with day after day of calm, sunny weather.
I’ve even been for a swim in the sea, it’s been so warm in the South West.
This has coincided, of course, with the Covid-19 crisis and a lockdown that has made time outdoors all the more sweet with the rapid unfurling of early spring.
Ten days ago I saw my first bluebell out in a hedgerow; now they are everywhere and the first few are even opening in the woods here in West Cornwall, heralding what will be a dramatic carpet of colour.
The early yellow sunshine of lesser celandines now feels long enough ago that some of them are going over, past their best, along with some bushier primroses. The same is true of blackthorn blossom. The pochard flocks and stunning goosanders have left the large lake of Loe Pool to the gulls, swans, cormorants and resident grebes.
Every day now spring is moving on, opening up further. Two weeks ago jackdaws were tugging at the golden new thatching on “Strawtop”, an old cottage on the road to Loe Pool out of my village; a raiding party of knavish jackdaws descended on our garden, after both food and nesting material.
I heard my first chiffchaff of the year, heralding for me the arrival of the summer migrants. Last week it was the first skylark in full song, filling the air with hope, it seemed to me. Then it was the wheatears, six males and one female (the males arrive from Africa first), bounding along a grassy field above the cliffs. I love that their name derives not from the romantic-sounding crop, but from their white rump – revealed in flight – making “wheatear” a polite version of the good, basic Anglo-Saxon term “white-arse”.
March violets have been out for a while now, woodruff in the verges, and yesterday I saw the delicate flowers of the wood anemone in a spot where I’d never noticed them before. Pink thrift is emerging from it’s puffy green pincushions all along the cliff tops. And in the last couple of days I’ve seen the first of the tiny, delicate blue flowers of Spring Squill in a sun trap spot.
These daily sights seems the more precious for a number of reasons; firstly, in this time of confinement and separation, my daily walk feels like the highlight of each day; sunny weather has made staying at home tough – sure – but has made walking wonderful.
My mood is so up and down at the moment, with wild swings influenced by a whole range of unreal thoughts and emotions: judgement, fear, anger, worry, admiration, self-criticism, and terrible sadness. This sadness I can live with – compassion is being real with the suffering out there. But the fear has kept me indoors sometimes for two days in a row, further feeding my sense of alienation and furring up: I now get out every day into nature: it’s my restorative time.
Any repetitiveness of the walking routes is broken by the magic of spring’s advance: yesterday I noticed new, floppy russet sycamore leaves opening in a laid hedge: such a simple delight.
Then there are the weightier portents: for me these daily changes at the seasons edge reminds me that each day is different and presents new opportunities and potential; that this is only groundhog day for me if that’s where my focus goes; that change is constant, in the smallest details and in the big picture too.
Also I see that Change is in the air, in a far bigger sense. One of the most positive developments to come out of the current crisis so far has been visioning for the future: an acknowledgement that we can’t go back to business-as-usual after all this, but instead will want to create a better world for the times ahead. Writers and commentators have been envisioning a change to societal values and a shaken-up refocusing of national and international priorities.
The enormous outpouring of love and admiration for our NHS workers, the galvanising of goodwill and empathy to create an army of volunteers to support the elderly and vulnerable people in our communities, the coming together of politicians and trade unionists to create unified policies including a huge financial support package: all of these speak to a different collective mood now, and a huge threshold for change.
I may be being overly optimistic – perhaps to counterbalance despondence and cynicism – but with Spring in the air and inspiring me daily, the longer-term future looks brighter too.