Wednesday, 2 February 2011

The precise moment when spring ran out of the thicket.

European robins are not messengers of spring.

  I thought I should lay low, I thought I should say hello.  Today was groundhog day in Canada.  He didn't see his shadow, and so it will be an early spring there.  While, in my heart of hearts, I think that spring has landed in the west of Europe already.

   One cold day in Ireland in the Connemara gealtacht, I was humiliated in front of my Irish-language class peers for foolishly saying that Spring began on March 21st.  Then, even after demonstrating that I could understand the question in Irish and knew the months of the year, I was asked again, and so again answered that it began on the 21st of March.  Apparently, Spring begins on the 1st of February in Ireland, and don't forget it! Though, I suppose that even when we lived in Paris (where it was Chandeleur today), it always seemed fairly Spring-ish by February, so maybe it is true, after all.  I don't mean to suggest that I think it won't be cold again, because Spring can be cold.  What I mean is that there's a feeling of Spring in the air, while back in Canada probably the only thing in the air is snow.

   So, holding fast to the habits I was raised with, I am still burrowed away, bear-like, in my den -- all books and paintbrushes, tools to scrape away at copper plates, and long dreams in the still-dark mornings.  There's life and candlelight in here though... soon maybe there might be some signs of life, in the way of a painting or etching.

   Now off to bed I go, to study Russian, and think on Chinese New Year dragon dances.  When I was young, I used to sort of think, that despite the peoples' legs sticking out,  the dragon dances were danced by real dragons, hiding underneath the long dragon costume.  And tomorrow, if we still lived in Japan, we would be throwing beans out from each window of the house and saying a chant to ward off any ogres that might think of stealing in and surprising us.  Happy year of the rabbit!



  1. Old habits die hard. I envy you being burrowed away - it's too darn hot to even think or dream here at the moment.

    I hear it's the Year of the Cat in Vietnam, apparently they share all but two of the Chinese zodiac, replacing the rabbit with the cat and the ox with the buffalo*!*

  2. I forgot to say

    I love the photo of the duck - seems to be channeling exasperation through it's wing

    or perhaps it's a drama drake ... hehe

  3. Hi Annie,

    That's interesting about the Vietnamese zodiac... I had no idea that it was different.

    Hot weather could be nice after all, things like picnics and laundry drying outside sound awfully nice to me right now.

    This duck photo may be something of an inkblot test. I thought he looked so happy! But now that you mention it, I can see what you meant too...

  4. oh, and what a perfect photo for the post!
    gorgeous, as always. sorry about that irish class :D

  5. Ha ha... no worries... even then part of me found it sort of funny, though I was obliged to keep that to myself... It was a very strict place, but worth it.

  6. Having just caught up with this post, I'm wondering if you know that it's in the old 'Celtic', pre-Christian calendar that the season of Imbolc begins at the start of February. I believe that Imbolc means something like 'first milk' and refers to the start of lambing. Imbolc runs for three months until Beltane (May 1st-end August), then Lammas, then Samhain, the winter season. Each of the year's quarters can be related to the natural seasons of all life, from infancy to sexual maturity, to ripening age, to old age and death. As it did with so many of the established rituals of the year, the early Christian church appropriated the arrival of spring at Imbolc by turning it into Candlemas, celebrated on Feb 2nd.
    I'm no expert in any of this, I just find it fascinating.

  7. P.S. Sorry, made a typo!
    Beltane runs until end July, with Lammas (Scotland)/ Lughnasa (Ireland) arriving in August.

  8. I love these old calendar customs too! I've seen Imbolc written as Imbolg which is easier to understand -- 'i mbolg' means "in belly" (bolg is the word for belly, but the beginning mutates because of "i"). I don't speak Gaelic either, like you were mentioning in your other comment... but it's very similar to Irish (sometimes exactly the same, at least when written down) so I can suss out a few things anyway with my very imperfect knowledge of that language. When we first moved to Scotland I would strain away listening to the Gaelic radio station, until one day there was a moment were it was as if everything cleared up... then I realized the broadcast was out of Belfast!

  9. There you are, you see, we both have nerdy tendencies, as you said on my blog! Or shall we be kind to ourselves and say a shared love of knowledge?
    Your comment is like a wee light bulb going on in my head. Of course, spelling it imbolg makes sense: I suppose that the 'c' ending is just an Anglicisation, spelling the Gaelic more phonetically to English ears.

  10. Ha ha... a shared love of knowledge does indeed sound much better, so I vote to stick with that. I think you're probably right about the 'c' too, things like that are sort of mysterious aren't they?