Right about the first of February, avid gardeners get a little weary of winter and start looking for signs of spring. There may be snow on the ground and temperatures flirting with freezing but in our hearts we know there must be signs that the dark season is losing its grip. The signs vary from region to region. Some of us look for the ice breaking up on the nearby rivers. Others watch for buds swelling on native trees. And of course there’s Ground Hog Day (February 2) when we get a little crazy from cabin fever and pin our hopes on a fat burrowing creature to forecast the length of winter.
There are three signs that I have found to be reliable harbingers of spring, no matter which part of the country I’ve lived in. The first one is the return of the song birds. These sweet creatures are stimulated by the change in day length to move north and start their nesting activities. Here in the south, this starts as early as late January. The house finches are the first to show up at the McCormick Homestead. Ours is a highly desirable nesting spot. There’s bird food my mother puts out each morning (after she feeds her cat and fish), a reliable water dish that gets filled even in the heat of summer, and lots of nooks for small birds to nest in relative safety. Sometimes they try really strange spots to nest, such as on top of the main household circuit breaker box or in the curve of a Christmas wreath I forgot to put away.
The second sign of spring returning is a little more subtle. Around this time I start watching the overnight lows to see how quickly they are trending upward. The daytime highs are more fickle because they can quickly crash when a cold front sweeps. But the overnight lows are more affected by the ground temperature. When temperatures rise underfoot, trees and shrubs start pulling up sap and buds swell. Warmer soil temperatures also trigger seeds that were dormant all winter.
And the third sign? Well, it’s one you’ll only see along country roads. I’m of course referring to roadkill. Sad though it is, a major uptick of country roadkill is a sure sign spring is just around the corner. Dormant animals awaken with a touch of amnesia, forgetting the road lessons of past years.