| Spring is in the air – and Zoroastrians and hares and pagans. And me|
|Today is the vernal equinox: equal day, equal night, a moment of balance poised between the cold grey of winter and the green fire of spring.|
Watching the budget on the news, I wait for George Osborne's primavera moment, when zephyrs blow flowers through the halls of Westminster and birdsong drowns out the hectoring. Hope over experience, eh? He's only going to frack it up so I switch off and walk outside where spring should be champing at the bit.
This time last year was sunny and warm, I saw butterflies and bees and at dusk bats flying under a strangely fat moon. What have they done with the spring? We had a day of it a fortnight ago and since then it's been snow, hail, rain, fog. The ground is unyielding, greasy, sullen. Wallflowers and polyanthus are stunned by frost. A few sulky daffodils peer earthwards. Snowdrops are hanging on like a pillow burst of feathers from a peregrine kill, beautiful and pointless. And yet …
Whatever the complicated planetary angles of declension and orbital whatnots that determine the astronomical equinox, it's far too loaded with magic to be snookered by a bit of inclement weather. The vernal or spring equinox of the northern hemisphere is rightly the March equinox because in the southern hemisphere it's the same still point between day and night but for the opposite seasons.
The Jewish Passover is the full moon nearest the equinox. Christian Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the equinox. It's the ancient Iranian new year festival of Nowruz; a holiday in Afghanistan and Zanzibar; a holy day for Zoroastrians and Baha'is, Tamils and Bengalis; an ancient Egyptian festival. Talk to pagans and it's a point at which culture, nature and the rhythms inside us dance together.
We look around us, on this mad March day, for the divine, lunatic hares boxing and tearing around fields in the moonlight. We listen for the first full virtuoso song of the thrush, the first unsteady metronome calls of chiff-chaff back from wherever. We sniff for the first damson blossom in a spring shower and the rude exhibitionism of leaf buds. We taste for an air shriven by winter and roiling with almost forbidden flavours. Instead, this has been a long, weird winter. People seem exhausted by it.
A brimstone butterfly, yellow as primroses, flew high overhead across lawns and walls only two weeks ago, and yet now it feels like the other side of winter. It's not just the sun we need but that sexy, fizzing energy as the green fuse burns through woods and along hedges, retail parks, suburban gardens and city parks.
I stand under a dishwater sky, bone cold, cold as charity. Geese honk, hens cluck, small birds whistle without passion. The buds hold, tight-fisted, their little hopes. Between yesterday's hail and tomorrow's rain, the gutters run. I rummage through rattley hedges for that still point, the moment of balance where light and dark are equal, life and death cancel each other out. It's a new beginning of sorts. Even though spring still feels as though it's stuck up to its axles in mud, there is an urgency in the voices of birds. We agree.