The Audacity of a Southern Spring

With both an early Easter and the early arrival of spring in eastern North Carolina, I decided to share one of my first bylines. This was published in a local paper a couple years ago, but still rings true. It’s an ode to spring in the South from the perspective of a transplanted Yankee. I’ve added a few pictures of mine from past springs and this year.

There is nothing shy about a southern spring! Happy Easter, everyone.

Once again I find myself amazed at the boldness of springtime in the South. There is nothing halfway about spring here.

1780We moved to eastern North Carolina from Syracuse, New York, where the average snowfall is 120 inches, and the record (just a few years back) was just shy of 200 inches of snow. So you’d think spring would be the favorite, most beautiful season of the year up north. And it is lovely…eventually; but it tends to be a long, drawn-out, muddy affair. Tall snowbanks become black with dirt and last for weeks upon weeks. The sun disappears for days (months??) at a time. Spring weather in the North is damp, raw and monotonous, broken only by the occasional nor’easter bringing just a little bit more snow.

Flowers appear in very distinct phases in the North. Crocuses pop up, only to be buried in snow. Daffodils come and go, and then tulips take their place. Trees might be starting to green up by tulip time, but very slowly. Finally, by mid-to-late May, things start looking green and lush. Northerners certainly appreciate it, but they can’t help wondering what took so damned long.

Spring 10

But here in the South? Well, there is nothing halfway or take-your-turn about a southern spring. The first onslaught is the seemingly overnight invasion of large balls of delicate flowers atop the many ornamental pear trees. Few sights are prettier than driving down the drive past our town hall, surrounded by the cloud-like trees.

Spring 8The ornamental pears are just a prelude to the real show, though. It feels as if spring fairly leaps into our neighborhood without warning. In the blink of an eye, trees are fully in leaf and the scenery is overloaded with bold color. Drifts of saffron-colored pollen cover every possible surface. While annoying, you have to admit that the absolute abundance of the stuff is rather awe-inspiring. And immediately after the pollen invasion comes the millions (seriously – I counted) of seed bundles. Never in my many years living in upstate New York did I ever have to use my wipers to remove tree seeds two inches deep on the windshield. It’s mind-boggling. And impressive.

And the flowers…oh, my…the flowers. My eyes tend to start above the ground when I’m walking down neighborhood streets when the dogwoods bloom. Unlike the soft, round pear trees, dogwoods are brilliant horizontal brushstrokes of white against the green trees. My husband says the dogwoods remind him of pine boughs laden with snow, so white are the blossoms, and so linear their displays.

Spring 6Azaleas form the foundation at ground level, providing layer upon layer of in-your-face color. When we first moved into our home, we discussed clearing out a scraggly bunch of shrubs off to the side of the house, but we never got around to it before winter. When spring arrived last year, I noticed a flash of color beyond the window shades one morning. Curious, I walked around the house and was flabbergasted to discover a breath-taking batch of azalea blossoms that towered over my head, filtering the sun through petals of powder pink, blazing fuchsia and glistening white. Needless to say, we did not clear out any of those “scraggly” bushes, and they rewarded us with waves of blossoms again this year.

I’m sure I’ll eventually be able to accurately label every scent when I take a spring or summer stroll. Gardenias? Wisteria? Hollyhocks? I don’t know what’s in season or what smells like what. But that doesn’t stop me from enjoying the onslaught of nature’s perfumes. The confounding mixture stops me in my tracks on some walks, and I wonder if this is what an exotic jungle might smell like. Earth. Spice. Green (yes, in North Carolina, green has a smell). And sweetness that floats through the air and reminds me of cotton candy.

And southern birds? They sing in the dark! If you’re a native, you might be wondering what I’m talking about, but you have to understand that there are no birds (or at least none that I’ve heard) in the north that sing at night. Nighttime in the north is quiet time, when all God’s creatures go to sleep, except frogs and bugs. But not in the South. No, southern birds party. All. Night. Long. There’s something magical about waking up at 2AM and hearing a solitary mockingbird singing a lyrical, trilling melody into the darkness. I eagerly await the back-up singers who are due to arrive soon, when every insect known to mankind will be roaring at the stars night after night.

Even the weather is brash in a southern spring. From scorching sun in the afternoon to frost at night, there are few temperate moments. Inches of rain are shrugged off here like a passing shower would be in New England. And the storms…. I mean, I’ve experienced some incredible thunderstorms through the years, but here? Here, it feels like someone’s lobbing bombs into the back yard. Crashing, booming, shuddering thunder and blinding blue lightening. Not for the faint-hearted, it’s more like a special effects show someone might design for a ride at Universal Studios.

Spring in Carolina is no genteel southern belle reclining on a pillared porch. She is dramatic, noisy and drenched in perfume. She kicks off her slippers, wraps herself in colors too bold for rainbows and dances her way through extravagant days and moonlit nights. She doesn’t mind if we want to dance with her, and she also doesn’t mind if we simply sit and stare in silence and awe.

The southern spring just wants us to NOTICE HER in all her glory. And she’s mighty hard to miss.

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