She’s just starting to awaken outside. Where we live in the upper Ottawa Valley, the winter was late in coming and there hasn’t been much snow, but it has been long, hard and cold with no warm spells. Even so, this time of year around the new moon of february, you can feel the spring. It truly is the start of the New Year. The bird song changes to tones inviting, celebrating and ushering in the spring, and the tree’s vitality starts to flow back into their trunks, from the roots that overwinter unfrozen beneath blankets of snow and earth.
The first sap flow that comes a bit later, is like those first lovely dreamy moments when we wake up in the morning, where anything is still possible. Maple syrup is a distillent of the Earth’s joy, of that dreamy morning time of the year. It’s the crystallized essence of the Goddess’s vitality flowing into unanimated matter, to bring it alive again.
After deep winter dormancy, but before the actual sap flow, is the time when we start to gather willow for baskets, and to prune the fruit trees. Their branches have become more vital and supple then they were in the dead of winter. And, by harvesting them a little before the sap flow, it gives them time for their wounds to heal. The wounds heal while the trees and land are still asleep, just like we heal when we’re asleep. The maple syrup season starts on the heels’ of pruning and coppicing the willows.
The sap flow follows the first rush of vitality. Like in all things, the spirit creates the template upon which physical reality is drawn. We can see this first flow of vitality in the bark of the trees that changes colour weeks before the actual sap flow. I think the ability to see the subtle shift in bark colour and “aliveness” might only be given to those of us who have lived with the trees everyday, in this austere white frozen world for 5 months. After such a long fasting away from life our spirit and eyes crave and eat any sign of colour like it’s a delicacy.
In the green house, the Cinnamon tree’s red shoots start on the first or second of February. They start on Brigid or Imbolc, the traditional European ceremonial day that celebrates the first spark of life, the birth of creativity and life coming back to the land. The right time for the celebration was signified to the Europeans by the first bluebells or other equivalent spring flowers. In Northeastern North America we’re off this springtime start by about six weeks, depending on where you are. This isn’t because of our northern latitude, but because of the ocean currents and jet stream that moderate the winters in most of Europe.
My tropical friend Cinnamon, who never freezes because he goes through the winter in my insulated greenhouse, can feel the shift in the vitality flow coming from the heart of the Earth. I see this because he comes alive that day and starts to grow new bright red tips on his branches. And it’s not just day light hours or temperature that causes the shift. Our potatoes and other root-cellar vegetables, which sleep at a constant temperature and get no light, also come alive and start to grow at this exact time of year. In the dry storage upstairs, if you look carefully you see the garlic also starting to wake up. And the seeds of the squash start calling for their gourds to rot, so they can catch this wave of life and start to grow for another productive season. It’s a good time for starting onion seeds too. And some gardeners even start their nightshades at this time.
On our friend’s farm’s in the area, the first lambs are being born and cattle births are not too far off. One friend times the births so that during the animal’s first vulnerable weeks, the cold will keep pests and pathogens from the newborns. When the lambs are born this time of year, it also makes them strong and they develop a good immune system. The timing is also geared so they will be old enough to catch the first, most nutritious wave of grass when it springs up.
The micro greens in our greenhouse that get trimmed back all winter, are starting to flower. The citrus (lemons, limes and tangerines) are the first of the tropical trees that are also coming into flower. The house is cold these mornings, 10C, and the greenhouse is near freezing after a night of -30 outside, but by the afternoon with the strength of the sun the greenhouse is +25C and the smell of lovely warm citrus flowers streams throughout the house. Anyone who’s lived or visited the south will never forget the aroma, because of the delicate uplifting beauty. This gorgeous aroma, like the maple sap, embodies the essence of Brigid, the Goddess of spring.
May you smell Her and taste Her with depth and gratitude,
She comes but once a year.