March’s Microseasons

Thu, 02/25/2021 - 6:15pm

March and October are my two favorite months of the year. Since we are on the eve of March, I’ll leave the charms of October for another day. March: what’s not to love? March is like that perfect morning slumber in those moments when you emerge from your warm blanket cocoon, stretch broadly and realize that although the sun is not quite up over the horizon, the day is bright with dawn light and the clarion call of a Carolina wren.

I am not one to rush into spring, but much of March is still winter, with only the good parts of spring seeping in, i.e. more daylight at the right hours (between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m.) and slightly moderated temperatures. In March, one quickly notices that the quality of the day’s light has shifted from being tinged with hues of gold to hues of yellow. The air is brisk and clear. True, there can be a stray bonus snow storm, but the white covering does not linger in March. Mornings often have a snappy chill with puddles glazed with thin ice. By afternoon, the daily-strengthening sun will have dissolved all ice panes, prompted the removal of hats and mittens, warmed the soil enough to encourage earthworms, or rendered a napping chair irresistible in a south-facing window.

Then there is the wind. March is a breezy month: not fierce, but also not subtle. March’s wind will pink the cheeks and blow the cobwebs from your mind. The weather patterns of March create the clear, windy aspects of the month. Longer days of stronger sun create pools of warm air above, which clash with colder weather fronts, resulting in increased wind turbulence and cloud formations. But, the warm air fronts are not so great as to sufficiently heat surface temperatures, causing great condensations of fog, rain and drizzle – that will come in April. March weather is perfect for walking, sauntering, exploring, and listening.

Like February – and most months – there are March celebrations based on seasonal changes. Most cultures have traditions of dividing the year into seasons, however the number of seasons in a year can vary by culture. Some divide the year into four seasons: winter, spring, summer and fall. For others, the seasons are delineated by moon cycles: twelve or thirteen in a year. And, the Japanese recognize 72 microseasons: roughly five days long, each microseason takes note of the sequence of distinct changes in nature.

I propose that we not rush out of winter, but rather, savor March by noticing the small changes that occur as we wake from long winter sleeps and rise to greet the coming of long summer days. What follows is a March calendar that embraces seasons defined by earth’s rotation around the sun, by moon rotations around the earth, and by the ecological progression of life’s cyclical transitions.

Red-wings sing

(March 1 – 5)

In the first days of March the red-winged blackbirds (who have been flocking back to the island for the last three weeks) will be heard trilling and seen swaying on reeds establishing nesting territories. The morning birdsong of many species starts to increase in March, lending a cheery greeting to the days. And, on warm, windless evenings a stray American woodcock can be heard “peeeenting” as it tries to jump-start its mating season.

Skunk cabbage emerges

(March 6 – 10)

Skunk cabbage – a very cool plant – is among the first plants to poke out of the island’s earth. There is only one known place on Block Island to see this plant; there may be others, look for them at the edge of wet swampy areas.

Warming water for winter flounder

(March 11 – 15)

Many species of fish seek warming and shallow water for late winter spawning. Although their population has been greatly reduced due to degraded habitats, look for passing winter flounder below Beach Ave. and Trim’s Pond bridges. In the late 60s and early 70s it was not unusual to see a fisher perched on a bridge with a long spear, hoping for an opportunity to see and spear winter flounder for the table. March’s New Moon will occur on March 13 – the New Winter Flounder Moon. And, on March 14, we shift our clocks with Daylight Savings Time, thus changing the marking of sunset from 5:50 p.m. on March 13 to 6:51p.m. on March 14. 

Chorusing Ebbets

(March 16 – 20)

Mid-March not only warms enough to set spring peepers chorusing, it also marks the return of osprey, who quickly go to work building nests and mating. On Block Island spring peepers are also called Ebbets. This year the Vernal Equinox, the official start of spring, occurs on March 20 at 5:37 a.m.

Seal haul-out peak

(March 21 – 25)

Over-wintering seals reach their greatest winter abundance in March. Requests for volunteers to participate in an island perimeter count of seals are sought for March 23. This effort parallels Save The Bay’s effort to record seals throughout Narragansett Bay. 

Greening moss and lichen

(March 26 – 30)

With increasing temperatures and moisture in the air, notice that there is an intense greening of mosses, lichens, and marine boulders with new algae growth. Late March will also promote swelling buds on the island’s many shrubs. Many indigenous peoples refer to the March 28 full moon as the Full Sap Moon. 

Between March 1 and March 30 the hours of daylight will have increased by one hour and twenty-three minutes. Remember, however, it is still a twenty-four-hour day. We have not gained time to do more work; it is just that as earth travels along its great ellipse around the sun, each day is illuminated in a different way.