Dave Anderson's Forest Journal: Celebrating the dawning of the green

DAVE ANDERSON March 16. 2013 2:25AM

virescent n. The state or process of becoming green; greenish. [Latin]

IN MID-MARCH, skiers and snowmobilers still react to new snow with great joy. For others, March snowfall is a curse.

There's good reason to beware the Ides of March, Caesar. Winter always seems longest at its very end.

The vernal equinox, the alleged "first day of spring" falls one day earlier than usual this year, on Wednesday, March 20. And, of course, it's never the same as the "first spring day," which often occurs sometime in April.

Today being St. Patrick's Day, when all are Irish, we revel in all things green.

"Green" has grown in bandwidth. There may be more associations now with the color found in the very center of the visible spectrum than any other color of the rainbow.

"Green" as an adjective has become synonymous with the environmental community. It is applied to the marketing of consumer goods from dish detergents to coffee beans sold with conservation or ecological concerns applied to the process of growing, harvesting, manufacturing, packaging and recycling.

But, as Kermit the frog lamented, "It's not easy being green."

"Green" is also used in the pejorative when applied to "greenies," those "tree huggers" deemed somehow to stand in the way of progress as environmental obstructionists. To me, that seems a hypocritical perspective unless taken entirely in the absence of concern for clean drinking water, healthy food, productive soil, forest and wood products and air to breathe.

In our daily lives, we see the iconic image of Earth as seen from space in countless contexts. We rarely think twice about the basic ecosystem goods and services essential to our daily lives and very existence provided by the simplest ingredients: water, soil, green plants, sunlight, oxygen.

Here's a more radical proposition: Imagine if days did not grow longer and sunlight did not return to flood the Northern Hemisphere each spring.

I got to thinking about this annual fitful transition from late winter to early spring while plowing a recent surprise snowfall. The dirt driveway had thawed with daytime high temperatures consistently above freezing. I hadn't really noticed or thought much about it when watching the weather forecasts. The snowplow blade swirled the heavy, wet, marshmallow snow and chocolaty mud to create a marbled bank with the same color and consistency of "Rocky Road" ice cream. Wonder where they got that name?

The air smelled funny - an odd wet earth smell. The ancient association of smell and season overwhelmed me: springtime. Even as the surrounding landscape of leafless and seemingly lifeless trees and icy brooks remained cloaked by falling snow, I suddenly knew we had turned the corner.

In "The Outset," New Hampshire's most famous poet, Robert Frost, offers this reassurance of redemption:

... Yet all the precedent is on my side:

I know that winter death has never tried

The earth but it has failed: the snow may heap

In long storms an undrifted four feet deep

As measured against maple, birch and oak,

It cannot check the peeper's silver croak;

And I shall see the snow all go downhill

In water of a slender April rill

That flashes tail through last year's withered brake

And dead weeds like a disappearing snake.

Nothing will be left white but here a birch,

And there a clump of houses with a church.

We really don't question our faith in the assured arrival of springtime - eventually.

Green, the actual color, is a symbol of resurrection. Plants awaken from beneath the snow as the entire northern third of our planet shifts from reflective, monochrome white to a million shades (or so it seems) of green. Forests - the "lungs of Earth" - inhale mightily. A collective human population smiles as we feel warm sunshine on bare skin for the first time in many months.

We have evolved on the only planet our species has ever inhabited. Its seasonal rhythms are so deeply ingrained in our DNA as to seem innate. We respond with animal instincts born of hundreds of thousands of years.

And so today, who among us does not crave a huge dose of all things green?

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Naturalist Dave Anderson is director of education and volunteer services for the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests. His column appears once a month in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Email him at danderson@forestsociety.org or through the Forest Society Web site: forestsociety.org.

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